The Science of Gratitude
‘I have only three things to teach: simplicity, patience and compassion‘. Lao-Tse
In the 21st century, life can be anything but simple. Rather, the complexity of our lives manifests itself in many ways – even more so in the age where technology has transformed the way by which we communicate and transact with each other. Frustrations arise and tempers boil when things don’t work as planned and we cannot do what we want to do or set out to achieve at that point in time.
Frustration even stems from our own self-indulgence – in the simple act of acquiring a new piece of technology and then trying to work out how it actually functions! I recently asked myself this question when I bought a new gadget – was all the stress simply caused by buying this device really worth it?
In the context of the problems that the world faces today, such stresses are completely irrelevant – people are starving, homeless and whole nations are torn apart and millions displaced by the ravages of civil war. The only rational response in these times is to put our senseless worries aside, take a deep breath and be grateful. Grateful for having a job, a roof over our head and for our health, since nothing else really matters if our basic needs are met.
I recently posted and expressed on Facebook how grateful I felt for being able to enjoy a beautiful walk through Kensington Gardens on a wonderful bright, crisp Winter’s day. I felt a bit self-conscious in such honest expression of how I felt, but as our social media feeds these days are so full of anger, ridicule and hatred as a result of recent political and social upheaval, I wanted to contribute something different; that the innocence of a simple walk in nature could bring such joy.
Even more so, studies have shown that the simple act of being grateful triggers the release of dopamine and increases the levels of serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter in the brain, making us feel happier and more empathetic.
So even science is showing us the benefits of practicing gratitude. The more we practice gratitude, the more it ‘sticks’ – neurons in the brain start firing together, then start wiring together according to Hebb’s law, and then we start to see the change.
The more we are happy, gracious and generally thankful for what we have in our life, the more these positive thoughts become persistent – and if our life, according to Jamie Smart (author of the best-selling book Results), is one big thought-generated perceptual reality (as Plato already said ages ago), then the more happy feelings we are going to generate.
Remember: from our thoughts come our feelings, which then result in our actions or behaviours. Change your thoughts, change how you feel about yourself, your life and the world around you. It really is that simple.
So, who would’ve thought that it could be so easy to get a natural kick out of life, all available at a whim, and totally free. Practising gratitude would have to be the easiest thing on the planet, I’d say. Start with your breath, and be grateful just for that. For some people, even breathing clean air or actually having the ability to breathe without impediment is near not impossible – the things closest and dearest are often the ones that we take for granted.
Easier said than done in this mad world of constant doing and thinking, but if we do take that time out to be grateful – even just for a second – we may find a new realisation: that life isn’t all that bad, that most of our problems are really illusions, and when it comes to stresses at work, I have realised that most (but not all) things can wait. How about taking a fresh breath of gratitude to that.
If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. ~Meister Eckhart