Gratitude and blessings
Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. —Charles Dickens (M. Dickens, 1897, p. 45)
How much of you is mind? How much of you is body? Yogi Berra once famously said, “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” Huh? Well, that was Yogi. But I think his point was that even in a “physical” activity like baseball, the mental aspect is at least a major component. I like to put it this way, you are 100% mind and 100% body; you are mind/body. Mental and physical are intertwined and cannot be separated (no matter how much we may try).
This is especially important when it comes to health because your emotions affect every cell in your body. Happily, every health issue can be cured or at least ameliorated by positive emotions.
The scientists who study psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) have repeatedly shown that heart-focused, sincere, positive feeling states boost the immune system, while negative emotions may suppress the immune response for up to six hours following the emotional experience.
Rein G, Atkinson M, McCraty R. The physiological and psychological effects of compassion and anger. Journal of Advancement in Medicine. 1995;8(2):87-105.
Mind over body
The power of the mind over the body is most dramatically revealed when a person suffering from terminal cancer has an emotional catharsis that is followed by a complete remission; caregivers and healthcare providers watch in disbelief as a tumor “miraculously” disappears. Over 1,000 such cases of cancers as well as other terminal illnesses collected from bio-medical journals can be found in Spontaneous Remission: An Annotated Bibliography by Caryle Hirschberg and Brendan O’Regan published in 1993 by The Institute of Noetic Sciences.
Conversely, negative emotions may promote cancer growth. This has been described as the nocebo effect.
Klopfer B. Psychological variables in human cancer. Journal of Projective Techniques. 1957;21(4):331-340.
The most powerful healing emotion
If it isn’t the most powerful healing emotion it ranks up there with them and that is heartfelt gratitude, also called appreciation and thankfulness.
Feeling and expressing gratitude turns our mental focus to the positive, which compensates for our brain’s natural tendency to focus on threats, worries, and negative aspects of life. As such, gratitude creates positive emotions, like joy, love, and contentment, which research shows can undo the grip of negative emotions like anxiety. Fostering gratitude can also broaden your mind and create positive cycles of thinking and behaving in healthy, positive ways.
Greenberg M. (2015, November 22) How gratitude leads to a happier life. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201511/how-gratitude-leads-happier-life
In one study, researchers asked people to keep gratitude diaries. Compared to controls, the gratitude group had a more positive view of their lives, reported more positive moods and less negative moods, reported greater satisfaction with their lives and improved sleep (both the amount and the quality).
Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2003;84(2):377–389.
How do we do that?
One of the most fascinating and practical ways of testing PNI is done by The HeartMath® Institute where heart rate variability (HRV), the ability of the heart to change its rhythm between beats, is measured. Over 300 independent peer-reviewed studies show that feelings of gratitude, appreciation and thankfulness improve a person’s ability to focus and to sleep as well as decrease anxiety, fatigue and depression.
HeartMath® has an exercise called the Cut-Thru Technique that helps achieve emotional coherence, which improves the efficiency of the immune system. This is how it is done.
- Be aware of how you feel about an issue at hand.
- Breathe a positive feeling or attitude.
- Be objective, as if the issue or problem is someone else’s.
- Rest peacefully in this neutral state, allowing your heart intelligence new perspectives and possibilities.
- Soak and relax all resistances and disturbing or perplexing feelings in your heart’s compassion.
- Ask for guidance, then be patient and receptive. While awaiting an answer from the heart find something or someone to genuinely appreciate.
Is this new?
What we’re discussing is nothing new. Before there were psychologists, it was often the religious figures such as priests, rabbis, ministers, monks and others who were the ones people turned to when they were struggling with intimate, personal issues. A relationship of gratitude with a transcendent, higher power has been used for thousands of years throughout human history. Here is one small example:
I once asked a recovered alcoholic with many years of sobriety to share his experiences with a newcomer who was unable to understand how, after so many years of dependence on alcohol, someone under stress could avoid recourse to drink.
“It’s simple,” the veteran said. “Every morning when I get up, I ask God to help me stay sober one more day. Every night when I retire, I thank Him for having given me another day of sobriety, and hope that He will do the same for me tomorrow.”
The novice listened in partial disbelief. “How do you know it was God that gave you the day of sobriety?” he asked.
The old-timer responded, “How stupid can you get? I hadn’t asked anyone else!”
It is amazing how we sometimes complicate things that are quite simple. Each night we entrust our weary soul to God, and each morning He not only returns it to us, but gives it to us in a refreshed state. Indeed, if we ask Him sincerely to cleanse it for us by removing the sins that stained it during the day, we can be assured that this request too will be granted, as long as it is sincere…
Twerski A. (2019, October 28). Growing Each Day by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.aish.com/sp/ged/45659677.html
I mention alcoholism as an example because the most successful self-help procedure for helping alcoholics is Alcoholics Anonymous® which uses a non-denominational transcendent approach. From the Alcoholics Anonymous website:
A.A.’s Twelve Steps are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.
The power of gratitude
Religious advisors are of course not the only ones who have understood the power of gratitude:
Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. —Ralph Waldo Emerson
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. —Albert Schweitzer
Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for. —Zig Ziglar
Now is the season of gratitude
May this holiday season make you aware of your gratitude. Be grateful for all the good things. And be grateful for all the “blessings in disguise,” no matter how successful that disguise is.
I’d like to leave you with the famous animated video “Absolutely Not” that puts our “blessings” in perspective.
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