Cicero, in ancient Roman times, believed that gratitude was the, "parent of all other virtues." Gratitude is the feeling and attitude of appreciation for the benefits we have received or expect to receive. The feeling of genuine gratitude opens the channels for more goodness to enter into our life experience. Gratitude has been said to have one of the strongest links with mental health of any character trait.
Lately, I have started the practice of naming at least three things that I'm truly grateful for upon awakening each morning. I'm finding it's delightful to make a mental inventory of all the positive things in my life. One positive thought leads to another and it's practically impossible to limit myself to only three things. It's much more fun to start the day in a pleasant state of mind with a feeling of calm in my heart engendered by the gratitude inventory. This sets a positive tone for the day.
If I start the day with worry, fear or resentment attitudes, it builds on itself and generates a day of more of the same. Here are some other interesting ways I focus on enhancing gratitude and hope they are beneficial to you.
Whenever I catch myself being critical of anything or anyone I just say out loud, "OOPS!" (Out of Principle, Sweetheart!) And then quickly think of something I'm grateful for instead, whether it is related or not. For example when a driver suddenly changes lanes without signaling, I might think, "What an idiot that driver is!" As soon as I hear myself condemning the driver, I can quickly say out loud, "OOPS!" followed by "I'm very grateful that I have a car with good brakes." Playing the OOPS Game throughout the day in the spirit of playfulness and fun instead of being critical can increase happiness with very little effort.
Once in a while, I think of a professor, teacher, colleague, friend's parent, or anyone else who has had a beneficial effect on my life. I think about what that person did to help me. Then, I think about how I can pass along this help and mentor someone else. Another way I choose to practice gratitude is by writing gratitude notes or letters thanking people for their kindness, love and friendship. According to research, I actually improve my own health by feeling and sharing my grateful thoughts with people. Sending notes and E-mails, costs very little but has benefit on relationships and health and is well worth the effort.
Another way to cultivate gratitude is, by following an eating method suggested by Barnet Meltzer, M.D; Meltzer advises, eating meals with a meditative mindset. Rather than gobbling down our food in a hurry, he suggests savoring each bite, really tasting each delicious morsel, and feeling grateful for the health benefits of every ingredient. I have noticed that eating in an attitude of appreciation helps us make better choices for increased nutritional value in our diet, thus contributing to better health.
Gratitude not only improves health and happiness, according to Dr. Robert Emmons' research at UC Davis, it also increases our levels of well-being throughout our personal and social lives. Grateful people reported higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.
For a start, we can make it a practice to tell our spouse, partner, child, co-worker or friend something we appreciate every day about them. Cultivating gratitude opens the pathway for more goodness, connectedness and better health. I hope it does the same for you.