The following post is offered by Spirited Life Wellness Advocate, Lisa MacKenzie.
“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us- and He has given us everything.” -Thomas Merton
One of my children recently gave me a book entitled Living in Gratitude. We’re a family of readers and often talk about what we’re reading or what we think the other person might like. But when I started reading this book I wondered if it was given as a secret message for Mom. I kept hearing in my head “Are you grateful? Is gratitude part of your life”? Then I would say back to the voice, “Of course I practice gratitude…..well, I think I do…..well, maybe I don’t all the time…. well how do you practice gratitude anyway?”
The book is a month-to-month guide for the practice of gratitude. The author, Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist, says that “practice is meant to be active, rigorous, and dynamic. To practice is to take action that supports change and provides a discipline for incorporating and strengthening new values, skills and character qualities.” I was especially interested in how a practice of gratitude might affect health in particular, since health and well-being are pretty important to most of us. Our first thought may not be about gratitude as a basic health practice.
Even though it’s July, I started at the beginning of the book with January. I worried that this was all going to be very shallow like “in January be thankful for a new year—a fresh start.” Then I realized that the message from my daughter might be: give up on the cynicism for just a bit and read the book. Right off the bat the author quotes Hopi Elder Thomas Banyacya who reminds us to vision and in visioning one must stop, consider, change and correct.
Arriens details this practice, which offers a way to align our vision with our choices. This makes sense. I was already feeling a tiny bit grateful for a new tool. Unfolding in this January chapter are also the concepts of blessings, learnings, mercies and protections: what they mean and the importance of paying attention to them. As we identify blessings, learnings, mercies, and protections we have additional tools to develop a framework of intentionality, which as the author states, “helps us enter frequently and joyfully into the life changing state of being which is gratitude.”
Further into the book is another important question that addresses all areas of health and wellness. Dr. William Stewart, author of Deep Medicine and the medical director of the Institute for Health and Healing at the California Pacific Medical Center, suggests that we ask this question: Are the choices I am making health enhancing or health negating? And he’s talking about all realms of health from the spiritual to the financial. Dr. Stewart and many others have demonstrated that health improves or declines according to the choices we make.
Arriens points out that it is well documented that the daily practice of gratitude increases health and well being. Genuine expressions of gratitude reduce stress, develop positive attitudes and performance, strengthen the immune system and increase our experience of joy and happiness.
This book encourages gratitude through reflection, questioning, action and practice. It recognizes the importance of research and intellectualism but then goes to the deeper meaning found only in the heart. I’m only up to March but I’m beginning to think that Living in Gratitude might just change the way I think about wellness.
(Book cover image from KPCRadio.com)