The Benefits of Cultivating Gratitude


Rice paddies stretch out from our house. Flooded now, they reflect the sky with puff-ball clouds that turn pink then orange, gliding to shades of white as the morning sun rises.

Chickens and white herons peruse the paddies foraging for insects and tiny critters that come with the flooding. Occasionally a heron flies right towards me as I sit on the veranda writing. It glides up over the roof at the last minute, its gray feet tucked neatly against its white body. How rare – a closeup view of the underside of a kokokan.

I count all of these as blessings. Gratitude arises filling my chest with warmth. My eyes smile.

 

Gratitude is a Reset Button

In our everyday lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the drama of the news, the challenges facing us and our families, dealing with anxiety, and concerns about our aging bodies. Gratitude can seem hidden.

And yet gratitude is a safety zone and a respite from our hectic world. It’s a way to take a deep breath and just be for the sake of being.

When I was caring for my husband who had Alzheimer’s and life seemed bleak, some event would pull me back to gratitude and the light. It might have been as simple as a dragonfly landing on my hand or seeing a rainbow in a dewdrop caught on a banana leaf. Gratitude brings us back to the present moment where fear and anxiety don’t exist. It acts like a reset button to pull us out of despair.

 

Cultivate Gratitude

If gratitude doesn’t come spontaneously, you can cultivate it. Choose a time that works for you – maybe first thing upon waking, over dinner, or just before you go to bed, and think about what in your day you have to be thankful for.

Choose one thing and if more come along give thanks for those too. It can be as simple as a hug from a friend, a compliment on your hair, or a beautiful view.

The important thing here is to do it every day. This doesn’t take time. It’s easy and science is showing that positive emotions create lasting effects.

 

The Benefits of Positive Emotions

Negative emotions such as fear or anger are a natural part of our instinctual survival techniques. We see a snake, a car coming at us, or a large coconut over our heads, and fear focuses our energy to avoid the threat and save ourselves.

We have a disagreement with a friend and our anger consumes us well after we’ve had the confrontation. This is the problem with our habitual experience with negative emotions. They stay with us, clouding what is happening in our present moment experience.

While we can’t avoid these emotions, because they are a natural part of us to ensure our survival, we can cultivate positive emotions, which have a lasting effect on our brains and our everyday lives.

Research done at the University of North Carolina has found that positive emotions such as joy, contentment, gratitude, and love open our minds to more possibilities in our lives. Negative emotions narrow that field to a thin focus.

One of the things I’m most grateful for is that gratitude comes easily for me. It has been with me most of my life even in the hard times – although admittedly, less frequently. But not everyone finds this feeling easy and this is where a technique comes in handy.

 

Gratitude Techniques

Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, has studied gratitude for over a decade and written extensively about it. He suggests that for people challenged in feeling gratitude that they practice grateful emotions that include smiling, saying thank you, and writing letters of gratitude. The mere practice will cultivate real feelings.

He also suggests nine other ways to cultivate gratitude including keeping a gratitude journal where you write down daily what you’re thankful for. I came across one I’d started several years ago and just reading my entries brought that warmth to my heart again. Those positive feelings had endured and created new ones.

This morning I’m grateful for not just the herons in the rice paddies but also for being a contributor to Boomer Corner and being a part of the Bali ex-pat community.

For more on gratitude go here: emmons.faculty.ucdavis.edu

If Alzheimer’s is in your life, check out Susan’s book – Piece by Piece: Love in the Land of Alzheimer’s, available at Ganesha Bookstore, Ubud, or on Amazon.

 

By Susan Tereba

The Boomer Corner is a column dedicated to people over 60 living in Bali. Its mandate is to cover topics, practicalities, activities, issues, concerns and events related to senior life in Bali. We welcome suggestions from readers.

E-mail us at : Baliboomers@gmail.com

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