The root word of gratitude is grace — a way of living that expresses the inherent understanding of the gift of life. The experience of gratitude can be practiced and cultivated as an embodied felt sense by our way of being in the world. Through the lens of gratitude, we see the gift of life as a fundamental way of navigating our internal and external landscapes. The personal benefits of this practice are many — gratitude elicits feelings of joy, passion, meaning and purpose. This felt sense of gratitude can be elicited within us by others, through their loving behaviors and deeds. By expressing rather than suppressing the experience of interpersonal gratitude, we can positively impact our social world. The interpersonal sharing of gratitude illuminates the gifts of connection, love, compassion and acceptance. Gratitude as an attitude is flexible — we can consciously cultivate gratitude at any moment, even in the midst of suffering, and in doing so the experience of gratitude can create a sense of meaning and purpose.
“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” — Karl Barth
Moreover, practicing gratitude can actually change our biology. Research from psychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D. has shown that cultivating a personality trait of gratefulness can lead to changes in the neural structure of the brain. He explains that whenever we have a positive experience of being grateful, instead of rushing through the experience, we should hold it in our mind-body consciousness for at least 30 seconds. He calls this practice “taking in the good”. In being mindful of our gratefulness we are using a passing moment to create lasting neural resources. When we bask in a felt, embodied experience of gratitude, our brains can rewire, and change old beliefs. If we practice this a little and often it can be transformative. So the next time you feel a moment of gratitude, pause with the feeling for 30 seconds to “take in the good”. This mindful practice is great mental hygiene for your brain, and supports general well-being and mental healthiness, which is our graceful birthright.
Dr. Nadine Macaluso has been in practice as a licensed marriage and family psychotherapist since 2008, living and working in Manhattan Beach, CA. The vision of her work is to help people gain awareness of and express their authentic self. As well as reach their full potential, have rich intimate connections and to relieve suffering. She believes that the more connected one is to their authentic self they will have greater connection with others. Awareness of and connection to our authentic selves supports well-being and greater mental health. For fun, Nadine likes to paint, exercise, cook and spend time with her husband of 16 years, 5 grown children and 2 poodles.
Post originally shared on Holstee’s online magazine, Mindful Matter.