More than a mere feeling, gratitude is an instrument that we use to negotiate with reality. Regardless of its ethical or moral qualities, the act has a fundamental value to what may be our most important mission as human beings: giving meaning to our existence.
Perhaps because of this, the German mystic and philosopher, Meister Eckhart, announced that: “If the only prayer one gives in one’s whole life is thanks, that will be enough.” There seems to be something in gratitude that propels us toward personal growth, not to say spiritual development, and which then harmonizes our
interactions with our surroundings.
THE MATERIALIZATION OF GRATITUDE
Being thankful is, in essence, a simple act. The impact is such, though, that it ends up permeating all the other facets of our lives. To get a measure of this, it’s enough to see what it provokes in our brains. Gratitude positively activates the hypothalamus region which regulates functions like temperature and appetite. In another neuro-scientific analysis of the cerebral effects of gratitude, changes were recorded in the middle of the prefrontal cortex, which suggests a relationship between gratitude and learning skills.
In regard to the physical body, acts of thankfulness have proven to have a positive effect on physical pain. This might be related to the release of dopamine in the brain, and thus it facilitates good sleep and relaxed states. It can even energize our physical body. In the mind, a relationship has been detected between gratitude and a reduction in harmful sensations, like stress and anxiety, as well as in toxic emotions, like frustration and anger.
Finally, on the collective level, an appreciation for social interaction fosters empathy, strengthens feelings like trust and identification, and supports cooperation. In short, just as its effects the body, mind, and spirit, gratitude acts as an agent significantly favoring social development.
A WAY OF SEEING LIFE
There are people who complain that roses have thorns; I, on the other hand, appreciate that thorns have roses.
—Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
It’s no coincidence that in nearly all religions and mystical traditions, gratitude has been understood as an essential fuel for human growth. The simplicity implicit in the act seems proportional to the transcendence of its effects.
In daily life, we’re habitually thankful for resolving a most ancient dilemma, decisively re-configuring our own sense of reality, and even what’s understood as having meaning in life. And although unfortunately the decision is seldom made consciously, the truth is that each of us can choose which lens we apply to our own landscape. In a sense, then, a powerful phrase from French writer, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, is worth putting on the table: “There are people who complain that roses have thorns; I, on the other hand, appreciate that thorns have roses.”