The Science of Gratitude

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

“Gratitude provides life meaning, by encapsulating life itself as a gift.” Emmons and Shelton (2002) in Gratitude and the Science of Positive Psychology.

On my meditation journey, I have discovered the remarkable virtue of gratitude.

I don’t often dive head first into an idea based on a whimsical notion of warm fuzziness, I usually look for the evidence, the science, and for a sign that many others have created a well worn path for me to follow, and come back to tell their (successful) tale.

This idea is no different. I am not wandering down an airy-fairy path of peace loving hippiness, thanking all the world for the divine gift that is this day, I am trialling being truly grateful for things which I have, or have received. In a matter of fact kind of way.

So after looking into the science of gratitude, and having a bit of a go at cultivating it and feeling the benefits, I am going to share the love here on this blog. My intention is to gain some perspective on gratitude, and then be able to model and share the concept with my children. Practicing what I preach.

By definition, “virtues are acquired excellences, acquired only through sustained focus and effort” (Emmons and Shelton). Our children are not born grateful (ain’t that the truth!). They acquire virtues (or not!), and specifically, a concrete understanding of gratitude between the ages of 7 and 10.

In their book, The Psychology of Gratitude, Emmons and McCullough explain how positive emotions outlast the experience which created them. Simply experiencing positive emotions protects us and gives us a reserve to take into any new experiences. So by repeatedly experiencing gratitude, we take with us the benefits of gratitude and the emotions that go along it, into the future, even when the object we are grateful for is long gone. A good reason to count our blessings eh?

My plan is to model grateful language and behaviours in front of my children as much as possible up until around age 6 or 7, and then test the waters and see if they can join in sharing their gratitudes.

For now, we ask our children regularly at dinner time “What was your favourite part of today?”, hoping that this will be a scaffold into “What are you grateful for today?” in coming years.

Wood, Joseph and Maltby found that gratitude has a strong relationship with a person’s satisfaction with life. Not only are the feelings and emotions that come with being grateful handy, the actual act of being grateful is an experience of wanting what we already have, and therefore doesn’t leave us pining for something we don’t have. It doesn’t leave us feeling any discontent or looking to fill a void with other people or material things. The benefits seem limitless!

Each Thursday, to remind myself and any others who wish to come along on this journey, I will list three simple things that I am grateful for. If you feel like doing the same, list yours in the comments.

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Creator of My patience

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

Today in my weekly meditation class I learned that my patience is not tested, it is created.  I learnt that when you grit your teeth and say nothing, this is not patience.  Patience is accepting the situation as it is and being ok with that.

I also, very interestingly learnt that being a virtue, patience must be practiced, learned and formed.  It isn’t just a part of our nature by default.  To develop it we have to practice it, to improve the habit of being patient and to become accomplished at using it in all manner of situations.

So, it is my conclusion then, that when one of my kids (this one in particular) is flaring up, what she is really doing is forcing me to practice my patience, to become better at it, because I won’t get better at it without practice.  She’s strengthening my habit of staying calm and being patient.  How kind of her.  Seriously.   How fantastic that I have this little teacher in my house, day in, day out, so that I can become a kind and patient person.

Oh, and the added bonus is that by staying calm and patient with her, I am modelling patience, so that perhaps in a very different way I can be her teacher too.

Image via I love Words

Image via I love Words

How I Meditate

I’m still relatively new to the meditation experience, but am already reaping the rewards.  I have previously experienced meditation in therapy, in a mindfulness group and now in a weekly meditation class.  I have just begun meditating at home, alone, with no guidance from a meditation teacher or “expert”.  It was a bit scary at first, but here’s how I started:

– for me it was like exercise or housework, I just needed to begin, just get started without expectations of the experience being perfect.  I am a lazy exerciser, so I need to just get my sneakers or yoga gear on and pretend I’m in the mood, and the same goes with mediation.  I put a mat on the floor, and a cushion to sit on and sit there before I’ve given myself the chance to talk myself out of it.

– at the moment I’m setting the timer on my phone for 15 minutes, just to make sure I don’t worm my way out of it my doing 2 minutes of breathing and then giving up.  I really want to practice and get better at it, so for me I feel like setting the timer is necessary for now.

– I begin with simple breathing meditation, focusing on my breath.  The first 5 minutes are all over the place, but each time I sit down, I catch my mind wandering sooner and sooner.  When I began it would take a few minutes before I realised I was daydreaming or planning the rest of my day, now I notice straight away, and gently bring my awareness back to my breathing.

– Sometimes I focus on my gratitudes, all the people who have been kind to me, what I am grateful for today and in general and try to really feel the gratitude.

– I return to focusing on my breath, and that’s it!

The hardest part of all this is sitting down and starting, but it’s getting easier the more I see the benefits.