By Kurt Valle, HBI Board Member and former RN
In traveling throughout the world and experiencing a number of different cultures I have noticed that the people who are the happiest are the ones who are often grateful for even the most simple things in life.
As many studies have shown, gratitude is a key to a deeper level of happiness, contentment, spiritual growth, and better physical and emotional wellbeing.
As my friend and Heart Based Institute colleague Dr. Ed Rubenstein often says, a person cannot be happy and ungrateful at the same time. Most of us have come to understand that by showing our appreciation, we in turn receive a positive reinforcement that can help us to grow both personally and professionally.
One amazing aspect about gratitude that may not be as obvious is that if we really get in touch with our heart as the center of love and all good feelings, our experience of gratitude can be cultivated so that we can shift into positivity just by feeling grateful. It can be our natural state of being — not as an exercise — but as second nature as breathing.
Feeling Grateful for Little Things
Why should we limit gratitude for times when someone does something nice for us? What if we start incorporating gratitude in our everyday, moment-to-moment experiences? How often are we grateful for our breathing, our vision, or our hearing? While it is wonderful that we express gratitude when “good things” happen to us, our experience of it and its associated benefits can be greatly enhanced and reinforced when we feel it for things we tend to take for granted. And by experiencing gratitude for “everyday things” we can be grateful more often and more easily.
Experiencing Gratitude Even in Adversity
These are trying times. Many of us are suffering or have loved ones who are. But, in my experience, feeling gratitude can help to cleanse pain, suffering, and depression.
As a long-time registered nurse I cared for many patients and families. Often they were in crisis mode, filled with worry and fear. Many suffered through advanced symptoms which were challenging to control, symptoms often accompanied by severe physical pain.
With over 30 years experience in healthcare I was used to handling difficult situations and emergencies, especially when working as a paramedic. When I started bringing my heart based meditation practice into the workplace, I noticed a remarkable change in the way I cared for my patients and how they reacted to the care they received.
Before I would go into the patient’s room or into their home, I would take a moment and let my heart connect with gratitude for being able to serve them. This would bring me joy and it helped remove some of the resistance I had in dealing with my patients and their families’ difficult circumstances. In this heartfelt state of being I was able to listen more and allow myself some space to not have to be the “rescuer” anymore, but rather a fellow sibling just trying to help them through a challenging situation. Instead of becoming enmeshed in stress and fear, I was able to stay centered in heartfelt gratitude and calmness. Patients and families relaxed more. Despite the trying circumstances, I had greater insight on how to approach the challenges we faced together and the results were always very beautiful.
Thanks from the Head vs. the Heart
While there’s no shortage of research about the benefits of gratitude, there is a profound difference between gratitude experienced and expressed cognitively versus enjoyed from our spiritual heart.
Our spiritual heart is the center of feeling and the key to experiencing gratitude, love, peace, joy, and contentment naturally and effortlessly. When we “tune in” to these natural expressions of the heart, we in turn experience them more profoundly.
By connecting to and opening our heart we can experience deeper levels of healing spiritually, physically, and emotionally, which helps give our lives greater meaning. While in this grateful state we become less susceptible to negative emotions and feel less of a need to judge others for their imperfections. We become more patient, kind, humble, and caring and we become more empathetic to others’ needs instead of just focusing on what we need or want.
Experiencing Heartfelt Gratitude
Gratitude lists are a popular and effective way to experience gratitude. But I invite you to reframe this experience from a heart centered place:
- First, make a list of five things you feel grateful for. If possible, try to include one “everyday” thing and one that stems from a challenging circumstance.
- In a comfortable position with your spine straight, just relax your body. Take three deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly letting go of all tensions as you exhale.
- Touch the center of your chest at armpit level and smile to your heart without thinking.
- Now that you are more relaxed and your heart is stronger, just allow your heart to feel gratitude for the first item on your list.
- Repeat, spending a few minutes on each item without rushing.
- Feel as gratitude grows and your heart becomes more open there is a deeper connection and appreciation for each item on your list.
Why this is so important is because you are allowing the feeling of gratitude through your heart to cleanse and open your heart even more. There is a direct link to a Source of Love and gratitude much greater than ourselves. By allowing yourself to take the time to feel this, you are allowing the natural alignment of your heart and mind to occur.
In enjoying heartfelt gratitude, you may also experience what it can have on all aspects of your life, those around you, and your community.
And that’s something we can all be grateful for!