We find ourselves again approaching the holiday season, with its many joys and challenges. The beauty and nostalgia are undeniable, but it can also bring financial burdens, interpersonal conflict, and feelings of loneliness. This time of year can make us feel like we’re falling short of an ideal where our families are perfect, our health is glowing, and our social calendar is bursting with invitations. It’s a lot of pressure! I wanted to take things in a different direction here and give you something to work with that will not only ease some stress but also help you feel good. In my classes, we focus on the juiciness that is GRATITUDE. It’s not just for the holiday season or inspirational memes on Instagram. Making the practice of gratitude part of your life can create lasting changes that rewire your brain and open your heart to more love, connection, and personal wellness. In this blog, I’ll share three ways gratitude can change your life.
1) Improved Health and Wellness
Gratitude is a growing area of study in medical research. Many of these studies show that the practice of gratitude stimulates two important regions of our brains – the hypothalamus, which regulates stress, and the ventral tegmental area, which is heavily involved in the brain’s ‘reward’ system that produces pleasurable feelings. So gratitude is not just an attitude but behavior that results in chemical changes in your brain, which in turn color your outlook about yourself and the world around you. Much of this research shows that people who practice gratitude experience fewer aches and pains and report that they generally feel good. They are also more likely to attend regular checkups and change their diet and fitness habits to support their overall wellness.
2) New Friendships
Showing appreciation daily not only supports emotional and physical wellness but can also attract new friendships and other connections. Saying “thank you” when someone holds the door open for you, showing recognition to a coworker who helps you complete a task, or being kind to waitstaff at a restaurant is noticed by others, who are more likely to want to get to know you better. How many of us prefer the company of a warm and kind person to one who is complaining and inconsiderate? Gratitude also increases our empathy ‘muscles,’ helping us to be more aware of and sensitive to the perspectives of others when conflict arises and apt to seek peaceful resolution instead of retaliation. All this makes you the kind of person that others want to be around!
3) Finding Joy in the Present Moment
It may seem strange, but sometimes happiness scares us. That new relationship that’s so blissful, that fabulous raise or lofty promotion at work, the continued health and success of our growing family – underneath our feelings of joy and thankfulness can often lurk a sharp pang of fear. We wonder how long the good times will last or ‘when the other shoe will drop.’ We can develop a mental preparation habit for disaster that, over time, dulls our capacity for joy and keeps us anxious, stressed, and emotionally walled up. Research professor Brené Brown states, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.” Gratitude can combat this tendency by actively engaging you in joy and appreciation in the moment you’re experiencing it. Gratitude keeps you from drifting into past regrets or future worries by grounding you in the present with awareness and appreciation. The more you choose to look for things to be thankful for, the more you will find to appreciate. Gratitude is an action, a skill, and a lifelong practice. The more effort you put into it, the better you’ll get at it, and the easier and more enjoyable it will become!
My Favorites for Gratitude
Chakra: Heart. The Heart Chakra, Anahata in Sanskrit, sits right over your physical heart and is the center of your body’s energy. It regulates all of your energy flow. Love for yourself and others arises from this chakra, along with compassion and affection. Love’s vibration is magical – it can heal the body, the planet, and the entire universe. Heartfelt gratitude is linked with this energy center, and the reciprocity of giving and receiving keeps it balanced.
Tarot: The Empress. The Empress is lush, fertile, and full-figured – the perfect embodiment of Earth’s greatest gifts. She personifies Demeter, the Earth Mother, and Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. In her highest expression, The Empress is abundance – from the flowers in her hair to the baby growing in her womb. She is sensual, nurturing, and just as comfortable receiving as giving. When The Empress shows up, it’s a message to embrace life and make something with it. Birth and growth are her gifts that manifest physically, emotionally, and in all forms of creativity.
Spirit Animal: Buffalo. Buffalo is a symbol of the abundant gifts of the Earth and our capacity to receive and enjoy our many blessings. Buffalo is powerful animal medicine – grounded and practical yet highly spiritual. It helps reveal the sacred path you must walk, looking to Spirit for guidance and honoring every aspect of your existence with gratitude. This majestic creature also reminds you to stay connected to Earth and all her gifts. Buffalo is an earthbound spirit that channels the elements and relies on nature’s resources to survive. Traditionally, buffalo was a primary source of food, clothing, bedding, and much more. Every part of the animal was used and spiritually honored as a symbol of sacred life.
Gems: Blue calcite, dendritic agate, kunzite, moonstone, ocean jasper, pink sapphire
Herbs/Oils: Bergamot, cherry blossom, clove, frankincense, ginger, myrrh, sweet orange, tobacco
In closing, making the practice of gratitude a daily habit increases its ease and enjoyment and creates lasting change that opens you to more goodness in all areas of your life. As Eckhart Tolle says, “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation of all abundance.” And so it is.
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