Why does gratitude have to do with mindfulness?

Gratitude, what a graceful word. It derives from Latin ‘gratus’ (cf ‘grace’), which means ‘thankful, pleasing’. In the mid 15th century, gratitude meant ‘good will’. Later, in the 16th century the meaning ‘thankfulness’ became more apparent.

Giving thanks, or saying grace, is saying your prayers. For ages, religious families thanked God before eating. They paused and reflected on what they were thankful for: crops, cattle, a roof over the head, clothes, offspring, good health, … Much like mindfulness pauses and stops to become aware of what is, really. In more recent times, the religious custom to give thanks is growing out of fashion.

However, on Thanksgiving Day, the Americans still celebrate the old ritual of saying thanks for the harvest reaped. The tradition goes that each person at the table tells one specific reason they’re thankful to God that year. The family rejoices by having stuffed turkey served with mashed potatoes, season vegetables, gravy and pumpkin pie.

Why practice gratitude?

There are multiple benefits to practicing gratitude. And they are all worth the while. Foremost, it opens the door to a happier life. If you count your blessings it helps you to set a positive mindset. When you go through rough times your mind will be tempted to linger with negative thoughts and emotions. If you train to see the positive, it helps you stop these automatically triggered negative judgements. This is because gratitude opens up the ‘approach pathways’ in our mind, rather than the ‘aversion pathways’. When we are in the approach mode we see the opportunities rather than the threats, and we become more creative, we have a more open mind, …

But it’s not just a changed mindset that makes us happier. There is also the neurological effect of dopamine, the ‘reward’ drug in our body. It tells you to repeat things because they feel good. Our brain is continuously looking for confirmation: it searches for things to be proved which the mind already believes are true. Dopamine reinforces this. So, from the moment you start looking for things you are thankful for, your brain wants more of the same.

Other scientifically proven benefits of being grateful are:

  • having more fulfilling relationships,
  • leading a healthier life, physically and psychologically,
  • having more empathy and being less aggressive,
  • sleeping better at night and
  • having more self-esteem and increased mental strength.

Gratitude in mindfulness

Like any other skill, gratitude takes practice. That’s why we teach the 10-finger gratitude exercise in mindfulness training. Before you go to sleep, for each finger you name one thing that you are thankful for that day. Kids love this. Watch how easily they come up with 10 items.

Apart from that you can also deepen your practice by doing a meditation on gratitude. The Brussels Mindfulness Institute recorded one especially for you. You can start it simply by clicking on this link.

So, there you go. Now you have everything in place to practice gratitude. What 10 items will you be thankful for today? I’ll start by sharing that I’m thankful for you reading this article till the end.

Sincere thanks,