By Jim Van Huysse, HBI’s Executive Director
As I’ve grown older, Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday. Having loved ones gather from near or far, cooking family recipes together, and sharing that special meal helps me to shift out of my normal busyness that can define my “day to day”.
But I think the real reason I enjoy it is the theme that underlies the holiday: giving thanks.
Experiencing and expressing gratitude is important on many levels and has even been described by scholars as the “social glue” that roots us and connects to each other.
THE “MOTHER OF ALL VIRTUES”
- animals representing diverse species – from fish to bats to chimps – demonstrate grateful behaviors, described as “reciprocal altruism”
- studies suggest that gratitude is not just a social construct but rooted in our very DNA
- areas of the brain have been linked to being grateful, suggesting gratitude is a part of being human
- spirituality can enhance gratitude
- negative traits such as materialism and cynicism act as barriers to gratitude
- parents who experienced gratitude regularly not only had more grateful children but children who were more predisposed to altruistic activities like volunteering
- gratitude may improve job performance and satisfaction and foster healthier, more collaborative relationships in the workplace
GRATITUDE MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD
Robert Emmons – a leading scientist on gratitude – and defines gratitude as a two-step process: 1) “recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome” and 2) “recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome.”
He also classifies the many benefits of experiencing gratitude:
GRATITUDE THAT COMES FROM THE HEART
While it’s heartening to see that scientists are focused on researching gratitude, ultimately the power of gratitude lies in experiencing and expressing it. And there’s a profound difference between heartfelt gratitude and gratitude that comes from our brain.
A 2009 study entitled “Can Prayer Increase Gratitude?” showed that people asked to pray for a sick loved one experienced higher levels of gratitude than those who were asked to think positive thoughts about them. Interestingly, another study found that asking people to think about religious concepts did not increase their gratitude.
At Heart Based Institute we refer to gratitude as a “True Heart Feeling”: one that is a natural expression of our heart and its connection to something beyond us. When we teach workshops, we sometimes begin by having participants choose a moment of deep personal connection and joy in their lives. Then we ask them to re-experience it by visualizing down to its finest detail. Next, we have them just experience the feeling they felt in that moment. Nearly every participant has reported that the latter allows them to enjoy that moment more fully and bring that feeling into their present state.
HOW TO EXPERIENCE GRATITUDE MORE FULLY EVERY DAY
There are plenty of practical ways to experience gratitude more often. Keeping a gratitude journal to catalog things you’re thankful for, writing gratitude letters to those who have done you a kindness, reflecting together as part of your dinner routine, and role modeling for others are all excellent ways to bring more gratitude into our daily lives.
But, no matter what mechanism or holiday you use to practice gratitude, the key to experiencing it more deeply and having it improve your outlook every day is being grateful from your heart.
From my heart to yours, and on behalf of HBI, thank you for reading this post and for bringing gratitude into your life and the lives of those around you.