It is easy to feel grateful when things are going well in our lives. But what about those challenging times, when nothing seems to be going right — do you appreciate your abundance?
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, it’s important to recognize that feeling grateful — no matter what is happening in your life — offers countless health benefits. When you actively cultivate gratitude and take time for self-care practices such as meditation, you open yourself up to true healing.
In fact, practicing gratitude, meditation, and mind-body exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi are some of the most powerful tools for unleashing our bodies’ infinite healing capacity and achieving optimal health — and this is true regardless of where you are on the wellness spectrum. Healing can happen on every level: physical, mental, emotional, and psycho-spiritual.
Feeling Grateful and Its Impact on Health
The feeling of gratitude, along with mind-body practices such as meditation, reduce stress and allow us to expand our heart, increasing our innate love and compassion for ourselves and others. This love and compassion expressed by our heart is actually our opens in a new windowgreatest healer — something I’ve experienced consistently in my personal meditation practice and in decades of clinical work treating hundreds of patients with complex conditions.
Modern-day research on the complex relationship between mind and body backs up what spiritual experts have known for millennia. For example, studies show that thoughts and feelings of gratitude bring about significant health benefits, including lowered stress hormones.1
Regular meditation reduces inflammation, improves immunity, and strengthens areas of the brain related to empathy and emotional processing, among other benefits.2
Negativity Affects More Than Your Mood
Studies show that feelings of pessimism and negativity fuel inflammation, harm DNA, speed up the aging process, and increase the risks of chronic diseases.3
Innately, we know these findings to be true. How do you feel physically when you experience negative emotions, compared to feelings of gratitude, love, and compassion? The differences are obvious. Nevertheless, many of us remain prone to cycles of anxiety and negative thought patterns, dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
A Blind Rider on a Wild Horse
One meditation metaphor describes the mind as “a blind rider on a wild horse.” We have no control over what thought will take over, which drives us into uncharted territory.
The journey into daily gratitude and mind-body healing begins by taking a step back and observing our thought patterns, so that we’re no longer “blind riders.” These ancient practices offer us tools that can tame the wild horse.
Finding Gratitude During Stressful Times
When life feels overwhelming — often made all the worse by the added pressures and stress of the holiday season — it can be easy to fall into negative thought patters and ignore the positivity around you. But feeling grateful is more than being positive. It is about being honest and authentic, and finding joy in the little things, despite the chaos in life.
Calm Your Mental Chatter
Meditation is a truly unique activity because it allows us to shift from doing to being. It cultivates a state of deep relaxation. If you can relax into a space where you do not identify with your thoughts and emotions, then you can let them go on their way, like passing clouds.
With practice, the space between thoughts becomes wider, calmer, and clearer. Within this spaciousness, a deeper, more authentic state of consciousness can arise and expand, expressed as genuine love, compassion, and greater clarity of awareness. This also promotes a sense of connection with others.
Meditation also has a naturally calming effect on mental chatter. Like a pond after a rock is thrown in — the ripples fade over time, leaving a reflective surface.
Harnessing Gratitude this Holiday Season
If you are battling extra stress this holiday season, it’s essential to find time to yourself and home in on your feelings, emotions, and find peace in meditation or a walk to recenter and balance yourself.
Making space to feel grateful is important for your whole family. When we overflow our cups with unconditional love, gratitude, and compassion for all beings, we effortlessly offer this healing energy to ourselves and everyone around us.
Writing down three things you are grateful for each day can be a daily spiritual practice that helps you review your life from a grateful heart, while helping your mind, body, and spirit heal on every level.
Healing Meditation for all Levels of Experience
There are thousands of styles of meditation, but one of the most profound also happens to be one of the simplest. This is the ancient Buddhist practice of Shamatha meditation, which means “calm abiding” in Sanskrit. Shamatha is intended to help access the mind’s natural state of tranquility and clarity. In Shamatha, the focus is on our gaze, breath, and concentration on a specific object — such as a small stone —letting thoughts arise and dissipate. Then we gently turn our attention back to the breath and the rock. Here is a step-by-step guide:
- Find a quiet place either indoors or outdoors where you will not be disturbed. Let family members (and pets!) know to give you this time of peace.
- Use a cushion that is comfortable for your body to sit cross-legged, or you can use a chair.
- Place the small stone (or other object) a few feet in front of you.
- Keep your spine straight and your chin slightly tucked in.
- Sense your contact with the chair or pillow and the connection of your feet on the ground.
- Take a few deep breaths and then just focus on your breath as it moves in and out naturally.
- Focus your eyes and attention on the stone in front of you.
- Breathe in from the stone and out to the stone in a continuous circle, relaxing and allowing any tension to dissipate away with your exhalation.
- You will see how easily you can get lost in a thought. It’s OK — be gentle with yourself as you maintain the perspective of the observer. When you notice you’ve lost concentration, gently bring your attention back to your breath and the cycle of breathing to and from the stone. Developing this “muscle” of focus, using your eyes and breathing, helps your mind and whole being relax.
- Resting in this tranquil, quiet space, we make room for our true inner nature of openness, love, peace. and clarity to arise and expand. The layers of obstructions — in the form of attachments, hopes and fears — slowly peel away, and our inner light becomes brighter and clearer. This is where healing can take a quantum leap. But it does take practice, so be gentle with yourself.
This holiday season, regardless of how you celebrate, you can practice cultivating gratitude and appreciation — both to yourself and others.
When you open your heart and extend love, compassion, and gratitude, research shows you can experience a wealth of health benefits on all levels— physical, mental, and emotional.
Wishing you and your loved ones a happy, healthy, and vibrant Thanksgiving and winter holidays!
Lilian Jans-Beken, Nele Jacobs, Mayke Janssens, et al.Gratitude and health: An updated review.The Journal of Positive Psychology. 2020; 15:6, 743-782.
Pascoe, Michaela & Thompson, David & Ski, Chantal. Meditation and Endocrine Health and Wellbeing. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2020;31.
Scheier MF, Swanson JD, Barlow MA, et al. Optimism versus pessimism as predictors of physical health: A comprehensive reanalysis of dispositional optimism research. Am Psychol. 2021 Apr;76(3):529-548.