In yoga studios, in most wellness articles, and in hipster locations, you hear the word gratitude uttered. People sign off emails “With Gratitude.” Social media posts have gratitude splashed all across them. But what do we really mean when we say gratitude? Do people really mean something, or do they say it out of habit because of its spiritual connotation?
Alexis de Tocqueville – who was a French diplomat, a political scientist, and a historian – once described gratitude as “a habit of the heart.” I tell my clients to say just three things they are grateful for every morning. It makes the day more hopeful and keeps our hearts open, irrespective of what comes our way.
What Is Gratitude
Gratitude is a choice we make; it’s not always an emotional response. After my mother’s sudden demise three years ago, gratitude became a transformative force in my life. It grounds me on days when I am overwhelmed by difficult situations. But as soon as I let go of the habit of expressing gratitude, I feel inundated and tend to victimize myself.
I started 2017 on a rough note. During my annual visit to my physician, a lot of alarms started to buzz. For weeks, I saw more doctors than friends, family, or colleagues. I was probed and prodded more often than I was hugged. I visited more hospitals and test centers than I did parties or meetings. My life was in an uncomfortable limbo between the couch and calls from the doctor’s office.
There is an old adage that when it rains, it pours. Just when I was overwhelmed by the health scare, I lost out on one of the most incredible opportunities to work with someone whose work I had revered for a long time. All was decided. Salary. Start date. Everything was going well until the person who had hired me fell sick. Obviously, I felt awful about her deteriorating health, but I felt persecuted too. I had turned down another offer on the very same morning when my future boss called to share the bad news. I had planned trips to Ayurveda conferences because I now had this gig that would pay for all of it.
I am a raging optimist who believes that everything happens for a reason. But I couldn’t find any explanation for this spate of bad luck. I dug deep inside the pathway of gratitude and came up empty. How do you find gratitude when everything seems to be working against you? When your heart is aching and your body is in pain, where do you go to find gratitude?
I shut down and turned inward. As I recuperated from mourning a job that had slipped out of my hands and running from one doctor to another, I found myself looking for deeper meanings. During that time, the results from my health scare turned out negative, so I signed up for the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) aconference in Chicago.
As a student and practitioner of Ayurveda, going to NAMA was one of the best decisions of my life. I got to meet, hear, and engage with some of the most beautiful minds. Dr. Vasant Lad – who is credited with bringing Ayurveda to the United States and making it the respected practice it is today – and many other brilliant Ayurveda practitioners shared their wisdom at this conference. At the opening reception dinner, I heard the personal stories of so many who had encountered health issues along the way but hadn’t given up on their path to healing. It was a gift and a privilege sharing meals and mind-space with kindred souls. Over the breakfast one morning, I had an aha moment, where I figured out the next steps in my journey with Ayurveda.
By the time I boarded my flight back to New York, I felt a lightness in my chest. My disappointments and frustrations had left me. As soon as the plane landed, I messaged a close friend, “I am grateful I got so sick and was stuck at home.” She was shocked and replied “Really? You are happy for having had to make all those hospital runs?” Me: “No, I am grateful that getting sick forced me to pause and reflect. It taught me to accept life and challenging emotions, even if they are difficult.”
She sounded confused and texted “What about the work opportunity that you got screwed over?” Me: “There is no way I would have attended this conference if the opportunity had worked out. I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to explore what I truly want to do next. I would have become complacent. I am grateful that my body told me what was not working and how I needed to change it. Ayurveda is all about the mind-body connection, isn’t it?”
I relearned that we can’t practice gratitude only when things are going our way. We all need to find something to be grateful for, however frustrated and overloaded we may feel.
Practicing gratitude can make an immense difference to one’s overall well-being. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher (yes, there is such a thing!) has confirmed via research that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
Here are just a few reasons why gratitude is important in our lives:
Importance Of Gratitude
- Gratitude helps lower blood pressure and heart rate.
- Gratitude improves the quality of our sleep.
- Gratitude increases mental strength.
- Gratitude boosts empathy and self-esteem.
- Gratitude makes us happier.
- Gratitude makes us more optimistic.
- Gratitude makes us less self-centered.
- Gratitude shows us the importance of perspective.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” — Melody Beattie.
What are you grateful for today?