What Is Gratitude?

gratefulfeature

Gratitude:
…a feeling of thankful appreciation for favors or benefits received; thankfulness.
From Midieval Latin gratitudo from Classical Latin gratus, pleasing: grace.

Robert Emmons, perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two key components, which he describes in a Greater Good essay, “Why Gratitude Is Good.”

“First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

Over the past decade, hundreds of studies have documented the social, physical, and psychological benefits of gratitude.

Gratitude brings us happiness: gratitude has proven to be one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness and life satisfaction; it also boosts feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions. On the flip side, gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression.

Gratitude is good for our bodies: …gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and makes us less bothered by aches and pains. It also encourages us to exercise more and take better care of our health.

Grateful people sleep better: They get more hours of sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more refreshed upon awakening.

Gratitude makes us more resilient: It has been found to help people recover from traumatic events, including… veterans with PTSD.

Gratitude strengthens relationships: It makes us feel closer and more committed to friends and romantic partners. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship. Taken from an article found at http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude/definition

Living in my own self-made twisted version of life, I made my way slowly through a maze of heartache, grief and sorrow that was often self-induced. But that is behind me now and I can attest strongly to anyone who will listen: gratefulness is life changing. The difference is not swift, but it is certain and sure when practiced long-term. Today I am grateful for my gratitude that made me whole, taught me how to love and brought happiness to my life.

The miracle of gratitude
is that is shifts your perception
to such an extent
that it changes the world you see.
Dr. Robert Holden

The Only Life You Could Save

One of the type phrases I have worked diligently to eliminate are statements like “she made me angry…”, “he made me feel bad…”, “they caused me to feel self-conscious.” and any other assertion that pushed the majority of my mood or state of mind off on someone else.  Certainly what others do, affects me.  Being long shy of perfection, the actions and words of others do get to me, but far from how the once did.

If I could soak up only the good effects that come from praise, positive acknowledgement or expressions of caring and love, that would be wonderful.  I am glad to be “made” by others to feel such things and choose to be effected by them.  However, the tendency is to reflect away the pleasant to some degree and soak up the negative to a point beyond what was said or done.  It is a human condition that dates back to living in the wild when acute awareness of what was bad, wrong or dangerous kept one alive.  That sensing ability is not without benefit today, but I would be better if about 90% of that sense left me.

I know the effect on me of another’s actions or words is in vast majority my choice.  No one makes me feel ANYTHING unless I give my permission.  No longer does that old dodge for my feelings and reactions work well for me.  Once the truth is known, it is quite difficult to delude one’s self any more.

“THE JOURNEY” by American poet Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only that you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

These days I am focused on saving and shaping the one life I have control over: MINE!  In the doing of it there has been a discovery I actually can change others indirectly.  As time passes others notice my genuine growth and peace of mind and end up wanting some of what I have.  It is a path I can instruct others about.  The best I can do is illustrate what I have learned through my actions and thereby teach by example.

Once upon a time “I walked mostly in the dark of ignorance”, but now make my way largely “in the light of knowledge” learned the hard way (at least the majority of the time!).  To be grateful for the person I am today, gratitude must be genuine for every trial and problem faced.  Those challenges, especially the ones I could not imagine how I was going to live through initially have brought my most profound teachings.

Don’t settle for comfort.
Don’t ignore the emptiness.
Seek love.
KatieP – http://head-heart-health.com/

First posted on March 26, 2012

My History of Anger

illustrate-anger-1

Every destructive emotion bears its own harvest, but anger’s fruit is the most bitter of all. Uncontrolled anger is a devastating sin, and no one is exempt from its havoc. It shatters friendships and destroys marriages; it causes abuse in families and discord in business; it breeds violence in the community and war between nations. Its recoil, like that of a high-powered rifle, often hurts the one who wields it as well as its target. Anger makes us lash out at others, destroying relationships and revealing our true nature. The history of the human race is largely the history of its anger. Billy Graham

Years ago my anger was a crutch; a habit and a bad one. My temper would get loose the easiest when slighted or left out by people I cared about. In hindsight, most of the time I simply needed to be understanding toward an unintentional act. But letting indignation give flame to anger, I volleyed back with spiked words hurled with intention to hurt another. Being sorry later did little to calm the hurts I often caused. The end result was usually ending up mad at myself.

Finding out some people were afraid of me, or at least reluctant to be in my company, was humbling. It’s wasn’t that I was an intentionally hurtful person, but rather I was a powder keg that did not need much agitation to go “boom”. I know now that my anger was only fear turned inside out.

A Hindu saint who was visiting river Ganges to take bath found a group of family members on the banks, shouting in anger at each other. He turned to his disciples smiled and asked, “Why do people shout in anger shout at each other?”

Disciples thought for a while, one of them said, “Because we lose our calm, we shout”.

“But, why should you shout when the other person is just next to you? You can as well tell him what you have to say in a soft manner?” asked the saint.

Disciples gave some other answers but none satisfied the other disciples.

Finally the saint explained, “When two people are angry at each other, their hearts distance a lot. To cover that distance they must shout to be able to hear each other. The angrier they are, the stronger they will have to shout to hear each other to cover that great distance. What happens when two people fall in love? They don’t shout at each other but talk softly, Because their hearts are very close. The distance between them is either nonexistent or very small…”

The saint continued, “When they love each other even more, what happens? They do not speak, only whisper and they get even closer to each other in their love. Finally they even need not whisper, they only look at each other and that’s all. That is how close two people are when they love each other”.

He looked at his disciples and said, “‘So when you argue do not let your hearts get distant, Do not say words that distance each other more, Or else there will come a day when the distance is so great that you will not find the path to return”.

In recent years I am a calm person who rarely gets agitated and when I do it’s a fairly rare occurrence for me to express it externally. Those who have known me ten years or less say they can’t imagine me being a person with hair-trigger anger. I am grateful that’s true and for the guidance and intention that has put anger mostly behind me.

Anybody can become angry —
that is easy,
but to be angry with the right person
and to the right degree and at the right time
and for the right purpose, and in the right way;
that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.
Aristotle

From Then Till Now

20130107__0308DSC_0308Imperial-Dunes-sandstorm

It’s not uncommon to have gone through something filled with difficulty and pain, only to end up grateful for what it taught. And so it has been with me the last half-dozen years or so. I went from who I was to who I have become. Like a walk through hell, I do not wish to ever have to again face the sort of things I went through. However, I am grateful to have survived and be so much better for the experience.

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about. Haruki Murakami

I have learned it’s not unusual to go through something filled with difficulty and pain, only to end up grateful for what it taught. And so it has been for me the last half-dozen years or so. From then to now I went from who I was to who I have become. That journey was like a walk through a blinding sandstorm that bruised, blinded and left me completely lost at times. I am grateful to have somehow muddled through the shifting sands and be better for it. I am thriving!

There are two questions a man must ask himself:
The first is ‘Where am I going?’
and the second is ‘Who will go with me?’
If you ever get these questions
in the wrong order you are in trouble.
Sam Keen

“Soft Hearted”

melted heart

Maybe you don’t see,
Little things get to me,
A silly comment, words unmeant,
Things merely insignificant
Spend hours in my head,
They tear at my heart,
And don’t cease
Till its apart.
poemofquotes.com

There was never a time I don’t remember being soft-hearted, even as a little boy. Clearly I recall before first grade giving my uncle something for my first cousin. She was younger and had cerebral palsy. Giving her a prized rubber cowboy I kept safe in a drawer was my way to show I cared.

At nineteen I quit my job and moved a thousand miles with my roommate because he was relocating and needed help. I took off ill-prepared with no job and little money but it all worked out.

Close to ten years ago I relocated out of the country for the woman in my heart. Living on a tiny island where she wanted to be is not something a poor swimmer like me would ordinarily choose otherwise.

Professionally, I have stayed at jobs much longer than I wanted in order not ‘let down’ the people who worked for me.

More times than I can remember have been denials of my hopes and wishes in order to give to someone else.

Today I don’t really regret any of it, but do acknowledge the pain my actions caused me. For long years there was a struggle with thoughts like, “I do all this for them and they don’t appreciate it” or “I give and give and give. Why can’t they see what I need?” or “After all I have done for you, you do this to me!” I admit there is selfishness in those notions. To give with unspoken strings attached is not true giving. In every instance there was a lesson to be learned, but I had to wait until the ember of each emotion died down.

What remains behind of those things given in the past are stories I tell myself. Over time the tales have improved to where I can see my willing participation in each episode. Once the emotions settled and my part was exposed there came teaching that allowed me to see beyond the aches of a soft heart. Ultimately I realize now everything given eventually looped back to benefit me in one way or another.

“..It occurs to me that the peculiarity of most things we think of as fragile is how tough they truly are. There were tricks we did with eggs, as children, to show how they were, in reality, tiny load-bearing marble halls… Hearts may break, but hearts are the toughest of muscles, able to pump for a lifetime, seventy times a minute, and scarcely falter along the way. Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things, can prove remarkably difficult to kill.” Neil Gaiman

I am grateful for each time I have been hurt, misunderstood, left-out, given more than I got or was left behind. Such are what made my soft heart strong.

Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching,
and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be.
I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.
Charles Dickens

First Official Day

After-a-While-Poem
I found this poem… sometime around my junior or senior year of high school. I’m sure I thought it applied to something going on in my life at the moment although I can’t remember what. Aren’t all things in high school trivial? But it really meant something to me. So much so that I’ve kept this exact paper clipping for at least 17 years… I find it from time to time tucked away in an old journal or notebook, in between pages of my Bible or this time at the bottom of a drawer in my bedside table.

The overall message seems to be about the end of romantic love, but I think it is about much more than that. I think it’s about things like friendship, insecurity, being unsure of a situation or just in believing in your self instead of relying on other people for happiness. To me, it’s more about learning from everything you live through. Good or bad. Kami Bible http://kamibible.me/2010/04/28/even-sunshine-burns-if-you-get-too-much/

After a While by Veronica Shoffstall

After a while, you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul;

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning,
And company doesn’t always mean security;

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts,
And presents aren’t promises;

And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open,
With the grace of a women, not the grief of a child;

And you learn to build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight;

And after a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much;

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn
That you really can endure,
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth,
And you learn,
And you learn;
With every goodbye you learn.

No longer am I surprised when the exact thing I need appears at just the correct moment. And so it was today. Searching for something completely different I came across Kami Bible’s blog about Veronica Shoffstall’s poem. Here on the first official day of my semi-retirement I am grateful for the perspective this brought to my morning at precisely the time I needed it.

Are these things really better
than the things I already have?
Or am I just trained
to be dissatisfied with
what I have now?
 Chuck Palahniuk

The Key to Cultivate, Know and Appreciate

__by_unusualdream-d3el04tOthers have known greater emotional pain than me, but my life has included a healthy share of it. I used to think my allotment was enough to make me a “special” case. For a long time I thought the quantity of pain that came my way was more than most. But I learned better.

It’s self focused to think I know how the pain I have encountered compares to what others have been faced with. Every life is a unique experience and how a person reacts to difficulty is individually distinctive. As different as each life is, one thing is certain: pain hurts and everyone gets their share. The painful experiences are the boldest teachers about living if one is paying attention and accepting of the lessons.

Pain is a pesky part of being human.

I’ve learned it feels like a stab wound to the heart,
something I wish we could all do without, in our lives here.

Pain is a sudden hurt that can’t be escaped.

But then I have also learned that because of pain,
I can feel the beauty, tenderness, and freedom of healing.

Pain feels like a fast stab wound to the heart.

But then healing feels like the wind against your face
when you are spreading your wings and flying through the air!

We may not have wings growing out of our backs,
but healing is the closest thing
that will give us that wind against our faces.
C. JoyBell C.

Learning to appreciate emotional turmoil was a giant step forward, for it is one of my life’s most profound teachers. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” And so it was with me.

When the pain to stay the same exceeded the pain to change, I changed. Recognizing the teachings of pain was a breakthrough toward happiness. I will always remember the month and year: October, 2007. It was then I gratefully began to grasp that happiness does not teach about being happy; pain does. It is the painful parts of living that are the key to cultivate, know and appreciate peace and contentment.  I am grateful to know happiness is impossible without anguish, sorrow and grief plowing the ground for it to grow in.

It’s so hard to forget pain,
but it’s even harder to remember sweetness.
We have no scar to show for happiness.
We learn so little from peace.
Chuck Palahnuik

Where Happiness Grows Roots

yellow_by_nelleke-d55nx68

A question often asked of me is “what do you want most” to which my answer has long been “peace”. On occasion the follow up I get is “what does that mean to you?” My reply is akin to some of the definitions of the word peace: “freedom from disturbance; a state of tranquility; freedom from oppressive thoughts; harmony in my personal relationships”.

In his “Conversations With God” series, Neal Donald Walsch wrote about the pathway to peace that includes:

Speak only in truthfulness.
Act only in love.
Avoid the mundane.
Do not accept the unacceptable.

Embrace every circumstance, own every fault, share every joy, contemplate every mystery, walk in every man’s shoes, forgive every offense (including your own), heal every heart, honor every person’s truth, adore every person’s God, protect every person’s rights, preserve every person’s dignity…

Speak humbly of yourself, lest someone mistake your Highest Truth for boast.
Speak softly, lest someone think you are merely calling for attention.
Speak gently, that all might know of Love.
Speak openly, lest someone think you have something to hide.
Speak respectfully, that no one be dishonored.
Speak lovingly, that every syllable may heal.

That’s a tall order to do all the time, but a simple one to practice and aspire to. The more I keep such things in mind the more tranquility comes. Peacefulness is a gift I give myself. It is not decided by any outside circumstance, happening or person.

Peace is not about what is going on around me, but how I react to it all. I am grateful for that nugget of wisdom instilled in me over decades of trial and error. Peace is the fertile soil where happiness grows roots!

Peace is present right here and now,
in ourselves and in everything we do and see.
Every breathe we take, every step we take,
can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity.
The question is whether or not
we are in touch with it.
We need only to be awake,
alive in the present moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Legacy Of Lack

treasureI don’t want whatever I want.
Nobody does. Not really.
What kind of fun would it be
if I just got everything
I ever wanted just like that,
and it didn’t mean anything?
What then?
Neil Gaiman

Lack – Deficiency or absence; to be without; to be short or have need of something.

Once upon a time, with roots that go back to medieval marketplaces featuring stalls that functioned as stores, shopping offered a way to connect socially. But over the last decade, retailing came to be about one thing: unbridled acquisition, epitomized by big-box stores where the mantra was “stack ’em high and let ’em fly” and online transactions that required no social interaction at all — you didn’t even have to leave your home.  Stephanie Rosenbloom http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08consume.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

In childhood I learned a legacy of lack. My family was poor in many ways: financially, morally and spiritually. Such an environment shapes one of two types of people: 1) another just like the others with photo-copied habits and beliefs or 2) someone who does their best to be the opposite of what they saw and experienced. It has long been my desire to be one of the latter. I have consistently applied myself to being so, although in ways not nearly as successfully as I wish.

Four  ‘extra’ pair of unworn jeans, three new ‘backup’ cases for my iPhone, four ‘replacement’ Timex “Indiglo” watches, eight or ten new pair of drug store reading glasses ‘for when I need them’ and so on. All of those things are in my possession now. If thinking about them did not convince me I had a “little problem”, writing them down certainly did.

Always I have told myself I buy ‘extras’ because I like something very much and want to have ‘replacements’ on hand when what I am using wears out. “They stop making what I like” has often been reasoning I add to my pile of logic. When I step back a bit and take a broadened view I can see stirred into my thinking is not only what I consider completely rational. “Perception of future lack”, “conspicuous consumption” and even “low level greed” is mixed in as well. Ouch, that hurts!

My plans do not include suddenly giving my “backups” away to charity, although I will continue what has been my past practice: give to friends when they are in need. What I have now is front of mind awareness of my tendency to “buy stuff”. With awareness can come understanding. With understanding can come change. Further, it is important to be thankful I have the ability in the first place to purchase the majority of my wants. What matters is what I do with it!

As I open more to learning and practicing wise and prudent ways of being, lessons in the classroom of wisdom continue to arrive in an ever-increasing quantity. I am indeed truly and deeply blessed. I have no clear spiritual understanding or profound concept of God and the Universe to be overtly causing my growth. But deep down I suspect all are at work though my porthole of gratitude. Only when the student is ready can he be taught.

…what you need
and what you want
aren’t the same things…
Cherise Sinclair