By Razia Kosi
One Thanksgiving tradition is reflecting on the things in life for which we are thankful. Gratitude takes this
a bit further, so what exactly is gratitude?
According to Merriam-Webster the definition of gratitude is feeling or showing thanks: feeling or showing thanks for someone for a helpful act. The definition of grateful goes on to say appreciative of benefits received and affording the pleasures of contentment.
Research has shown that writing in a gratitude journal will increase our happiness. We are actually retraining our brain to focus on the positive and increase dopamine (the reward neurotransmitter) levels in our brain. We write about things we are appreciative of and then our brain feels good and wants more of this to continue to feel good. The more we write, the better our brain feels – a great way to have a healthy addiction in your brain!
How does this play out with South Asians? Do we have a tradition of appreciating what we have? Are we combating a need for always wanting more, achieving perfection or not tempting fate by acknowledging our pleasure in what we have?
So I’m asking in the larger context of the South Asian community, but I’m really reflecting on both my personal experiences and issues that have emerged in the context of therapy sessions with clients. Identifying the people, experiences, and joy in my life that I’m grateful for has been easy. I can name it right now, my daughters, a loving husband, a career that is both meaningful and provides a stable income for our family and a healthy sense of humor that helps me see the light side of heavy situations.
It has taken quite a bit of work on my part to be able to express gratitude for what I have, and to be able to feel contentment with all the blessings in my life. It’s not that I have been ungrateful, as a matter of fact I’m quite grateful and also fully aware of how fortunate I am. I think deep-seated beliefs about not wanting to tempt fate or fear of evil eye from an envier have affected my ability to habitually and intentionally focus on gratitude. Some simple things that I have done to focus on gratitude:
- Three good things and three bad things- During our family dinner, we go around the table and each of us shares three good things and three bad things that happened that day. Not only does this give us the opportunity to learn about each other’s daily lives, but it encourages us to find the good in each day. There are often many evenings that we don’t have any bad things that happened that day.
- Look for the positive in difficult situations- This can be tough, and at times I was called a “Pollyanna,” but I’ve found it has been helpful in being able to staying in a space that offers creativity, a mindset for growth and interrupting negative thought patterns. For example, if I’m feeling overwhelmed at work, than I focus on being grateful for having a career that I love and then think about ways to prioritize my work and ways I can work more effectively or remove distractions.
- Find ways to use my strengths- Knowing yourself, having clear assessments of your strengths and using them in different ways is a great ways to increase gratitude and dopamine in the brain. Using my creativity can go from the mundane, like cooking our family meals, to the complex, like writing a blog.
- One door closes, another opens -Taking the time to reflect on how negatives in my life became a positive. Thinking about relationships that did not work out, so I could meet and marry my husband. Understanding why I wasn’t selected for certain jobs, ultimately lead to me having the opportunity to do exactly the type of work I dreamed of doing.
Things that I intend to do:
- Keep a gratitude journal- writing the things I’m grateful for is powerful way to keep it on record; alternatives are also video journals for yourself. You can be your own messenger of gratitude.
- Gift of time- Contacting/ meeting with three people a week that I care about.
- Counting kindness- Count and report on the acts of kindness that I offer every day or ones that I receive every day.
- Experiencing the emotions, but not living in a state of emotional crisis. Knowing and recognizing that while I have many things to be grateful for, life’s journey brings about an expanse of emotions. Feeling anger, loss, grief and frustration, are all emotions that can overwhelm me. I want to feel them, but not stay stuck in a vicious loop that can lead to unhealthy patterns in my life.
- Practice gratitude every day.
Join us in CHAI with a gratitude practice. Share your ideas, your practices and your journey on our Facebook page, Tweet about it or write a blog, but most importantly, being a practice in gratitude!
Happy Thanksgiving – From CHAI