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On Gratitude-Let’s Do the Math

I’m always wary of any kind of fad or claim of a technique, lifestyle, or diet to be a game changer and a must do. Whether it’s shoulder pads, low rise jeans, South Beach, Keto, Cross-Fit, Law of Attraction, smoothies or chanting, every few years there seems to be something that ‘everyone’s doing’ and talking and raving about!

I don’t suggest for a minute that I’m immune to all of these, but perhaps my naturally suspicious and questioning mind has asked one too many ‘but why’s’ and I’ve rarely found a compelling argument to be convinced that these seemingly miraculous claims hold much water of causality or are very sustainable (or are indeed the height of fashion, as shoulder pads promised to be) 😅

Time and again, the far less glamorous findings seem to be that it’s the basics that continue to work. Eat a mostly plant based, whole food diet, with variety, get good rest, move your body, make social connections, find meaning and enjoyment in activity and get out of your head every once in a while.

This last bit had me a little conflicted. Why wouldn’t our sense of purpose, however we choose to define it, suffice to create a good life? Why do all our religious texts and leaders go on and on about the power of gratitude? About the goodness in giving - things and thanks? Could they be saying that just to collect funds for their organisations? (See that suspicious mind at work again?)

And it didn’t help that #gratitude #gratitudejournalling started trending. I mean, who wouldn’t be sceptical to specialty journals being marketed at you as a specific and complex way to record your appreciative thoughts. “Think of 5 things you’re grateful for and record them every night for 21 nights.” (Ok that 21 day rule for habit formation…not really evidence based, but that’s a topic for another article).

But there is something to be said for gratitude. We do know, rather compellingly, that it activates some really powerful centres of our brain, that it seems to be really good for our health (and for the recipient of our gratitude - should we choose to express it through words, reciprocity or altruistic acts of paying it forward), and creates feelings of community and connection (those warm, fuzzy feelings). Here’s an article that gives you an overview, quite nicely.

To me, studies around how even people who had very little, who practiced gratitude and acts of altruism and felt greater levels of well-being than when they did things for themselves, was a powerful message. I test this out regularly in my life and with clients, and while my information is anecdotal, I have to say, it does seem to bear the hypothesis out. I once heard a popular spiritual teacher talk about the joy in playing a sport. More than the camaraderie, there’s a moment when you’re immersed in the game, where you cease to exist. Correlate that with the Hindu concept of transcending the self, or the Buddhist idea of nothingness or the moment of bliss in an LSD trip being the point of ego-death. In short - when you get out of your head, you find happiness. Now unfortunately the ego, the wanting/craving self asserts itself most of the time in our everyday lives. And our many to dos, milestones and racing keep us in a state of hyper-vigilance. ‘I can’t let my guard down for a minute or I’ll be attacked, overtaken, or fail.’ And so, to balance out this on a regular basis (and the cadence and method of this varies from person to person) we can practice this simple act of forgetting ourselves for a moment. To me, it’s less expensive and far more legal than an LSD trip.

This Thanksgiving, what practice or ritual would you like to incorporate into your life? The alternative is that the ego gremlins in us will grow and overpower our personalities, our worldview, and our very last drop of joy. We have to balance the sheet. Do the math!

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