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Posts tagged ‘gratitude’

The Gratefulness Factor

Luke 17:11-19 [NRSV]

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus* was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers* approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’* feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

gratefulThe adjective grateful means “thankful.” Gratefulness is an abstract noun formed by adding the suffix -ness to grateful and therefore means the state of being thankful.

Being grateful is a practice that all of us should take seriously. Why? Because gratefulness positively affects our brain function, according to a variety of studies out of the University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.[1] 

When you are grateful, your brain floods with reward chemicals. When your brain is experiencing gratitude focused on a specific person, i.e. thanking someone for how they have treated you, your brain fills with pleasure chemicals. It’s like eating chocolate—your reward center is activated and so your brain learns to crave that feeling again and again.

Secondly, when you are grateful, your anxiety and depression symptoms may lessen. Research shows that even something simple like keeping a daily gratitude journal has interesting effects on people suffering from anxiety and depression. Those who are anxious sleep better; those who are depressed experience more positive changes; their depressive symptoms rate better on regular mood tests. Gratefulness challenges and upsets the negative thought cycle that can send us into anxiety and depression.

Third, a grateful brain means that your hypothalamus is working better. Gratitude activates the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating all sorts of bodily functions, including hunger, sleep, body temperature, metabolism, and how the body grows. In 2009 studies using MRIs of brains showed that the limbic system [of which the hypothalamus is a part] is activated when we feel gratitude. Gratefulness actually makes our metabolism, hunger and other natural bodily functions work more smoothly.

Furthermore, when you’re grateful, you are more resistant to stress. Your body and brain, in a state of gratefulness, have the ability to bounce back from stressful events like trauma, homelessness, grief, or job loss.

I mentioned earlier that gratefulness helps you sleep better, and this factor contributes to you experiencing more positive emotions overall. When you are grateful, suggest some psychologists, your prefrontal cortex where memories are formed is being trained to retain positive information and reject negative info over time. Makes me think that practicing gratitude just might lead to increased happiness, right?

Absolutely, says David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar who gave a Ted Talk all about the link between gratitude and happiness.

Since 1953, Brother David has been a monk of Mount Saviour Benedictine monastery in New York, dividing his time between hermitic contemplation, writing and lecturing. He’s the co-founder of gratefulness.org, supporting ANG*L (A Network for Grateful Living). I invite you to listen to his Ted Talk or to check out his webpage. Some really good stuff there. To sum up some of his Ted Talk, Mr. Steindl-Rast says that “there are many things for which we cannot be grateful, but there is no moment for which we cannot be grateful, because in every moment, even difficult ones, we have the opportunity to do something.” He makes it clear that gratitude is not realizing that people are worse off than you. So pointing to be people going through tough times or those in horrific situations and feeling lucky or better off is NOT gratefulness. Instead, being grateful requires an appreciation of the positive aspects of your life—not comparing your life to another’s. So you can be grateful by appreciating even the simplest things in your life. And you can be grateful when you show appreciation for another person, which is openly expressing gratitude. Finally, Steindl-Rast says that being grateful occurs when something valuable to us is freely given. We do not earn it; rather, it is a gift.

davidgratefulGratefulness is the theme of the Luke story about a Samaritan leper giving thanks. I absolutely love this story, because I think it speaks to people on a universal level and you don’t even have to be a religious person to be blessed by it. There are obvious clues in this story as to how this thankful person was seen by others. He was a leper, so he was untouchable and lived on the margins of society. And, he was a Samaritan, so he was hated for his nationality, ethnicity, and religious tradition. But Jesus of Nazareth didn’t care about those things. Jesus chose to heal this Samaritan leper; he made him clean, along with nine others. The now-healed Samaritan leper realized his new situation. He shouted out with joy. He turned back, approached Jesus, got on his knees, and he said thank you. And then Jesus sent him out—on a new path of gratefulness, a new life.

I think the story speaks for itself. Practicing gratefulness can change our lives for the better. So to close, how can we be grateful like the Samaritan leper?

  1. We have to stop and give full attention to the moment we are in. This means letting go of those future and past-focused thoughts.
  2. We need to look at our lives right now and ask: What am I grateful for in this moment? What opportunity is life presenting me, for which I can be grateful? Keep it simple. Consider your senses, the weather, your ability to learn something, a pet, food, a friend, your body, or nature. Think of each of these things as a gift as opposed to a given.
  3. Practice this gratefulness thinking especially in times of transition or when you feel particularly vulnerable to stress.
  4. For some, keeping a record of gratefulness is a very meaningful and powerful thing. Consider writing down your gratefulness in a gratitude journal.
  5. Lastly, express your gratitude to others. There are many ways to do that: short FB messages, a kind email, a phone call, even a text! Taking a risk to acknowledge someone’s kindness, patience, or character is powerful.

So find ways to start or to keep practicing gratefulness. Make grateful living your way. Become aware that every moment is a gift—you have not earned it or bought it. You don’t know if there will be another moment given to you. So this very moment is an opportunity and gift. What are you grateful for?

[1] Alex Korb Ph.D. PreFrontal Nudity: The Grateful Brain, The neuroscience of giving thanks, Posted Nov 20, 2012.

Walking with Joy

Zephaniah 3:17-20a             Inclusive Bible
For YHWH your God is in your midst, a warrior to keep you safe;  who will rejoice over you and be glad with it;  who will show you love once more,  and exult with songs of joy  and soothe those who are grieving.  At the appointed time I will take away your cries of woe and you will no longer endure reproach.  When that time comes, I will deal with all who oppress you.  I will rescue the lost and gather the dispersed. I will win for  my people praise and renown throughout the whole world.  When that time comes, I will gather you and bring you home.

What is joy?

Well now, that’s a loaded question!

What do you think?

What is joy?

Maybe you answered with: happiness.
Elation? A warm, fuzzy feeling? A notion that everything is going great? Or what?

It’s not all that easy to define joy, and probably that’s part of our issue with it. I don’t want to speak for you, but sometimes what joy is presented as to me doesn’t quite seem possible. After all, I don’t always feel happy. And happiness itself can be defined in so many different ways.

So let’s do this—let’s say what joy isn’t. Joy isn’t a feeling. Joy isn’t a bodily reaction to some external stimuli. Feelings are: the tickle you feel when a feather brushes your skin. We feel heat when the sun is strong in the sky. We feel relief when we sneeze. But joy is not a feeling, joy is an emotion. Emotions are active responses and they have objects. For example, your partner gets the new job she was hoping for, and you have joy over that event.

I’ll go a step further. Joy is an emotion, but perhaps it should be partnered with gratitude.

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Brown is the author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers: Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection.

She is also the Founder and CEO of The Daring Way and COURAGEworks – an online learning community that offers eCourses, workshops, and interviews for individuals and organizations ready for braver living, loving, and leading. Brown’s 2010 TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world, with over 25 million viewers.

She once appeared on Oprah’s show, and talked about joy. She called joy the most terrifying emotion. Why terrifying? Because fear stems from having our joy taken away. How many of us, she asks, “have ever sat up and thought, ‘Wow, work’s going good, good relationship with my partner, parents seem to be doing okay. Holy crap. Something bad’s going to happen’? You know what that is? [It’s] when we lose our tolerance for vulnerability. Joy becomes foreboding: ‘I’m scared it’s going to be taken away. The other shoe’s going to drop…’ What we do in moments of joyfulness is, we try to beat vulnerability to the punch.”

To illustrate this point, Dr. Brown shares with Oprah a story about a man she interviewed who admitted to her that he never allowed himself to be too joyful about anything in life. Then his wife of 40 years was killed in a car accident. Dr. Brown remembers him saying, “The second I realized [my wife] was gone, the first thing I thought was, ‘I should have leaned harder into those moments of joy. Because that did not protect me from what I feel right now.’”[1]

Truly joyful people, says Dr. Brown, do not allow fear to take away from fully experiencing joy. They practice gratitude. And it is tangible.

What if the root of joy is gratefulness?

What if joy is born out of gratefulness?

If so, even bad luck can give joy to those who manage to be grateful for it.

Gratitude makes us joyful.

And so, the prophet Zechariah says:
Yahweh rejoices over us.
Yahweh, G-d, shows love to us.
G-d soothes those who grieve and takes away woe.
G-d deals with those who are oppressed—rescuing and gathering them.
G-d brings us home. Home to joy.

Home to gratefulness.

Even tears and sadness can be pathways to gratefulness, and then to joy.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/18/dr-brene-brown-joy-gratitude-oprah_n_2885983.html

 

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