As I wake in the morning, I snuggle under my covers and breathe a sigh of gratitude for the comfy warmth. I then breathe in thanks for the gentle breeze of my ceiling fan whirring above. Next comes my gratitude for the house that is giving me shelter. My deepest breath brings gratitude that I have been given the magnificent gift of another day! I don’t think about this as an exercise or practice anymore, it simply comes with my first heartbeat as I open my eyes. I am then able to begin my day and welcome whatever lies before me.
I find that beginning the day with gratitude opens a space in me that allows me to see the small gifts of the day and not just the stress of this extraordinary time. There is a song by George Strait that I love called “I Saw God Today.” The song is about his spending long hours in the hospital as his wife is giving birth. Emerging from the sterile, coldness of the hospital building, he spies some flowers growing up through the concrete outside and he sings, “I saw God today.”
Walking in gratitude allows me to see the Divine in broken concrete, in those places that I might miss the flowers and see only the brokenness. It allows us, even in this scary and overwhelming year of COVID, to glimpse the moments of gifts that are here. Neighbors speaking that did not know each other before. People offering to pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor so she doesn’t have to stand in the line at HEB too long. A friend of mine offering to reprogram my non-functioning remote control so I would have access to tv (and she actually knew how to do it!).
Science tells us that gratitude actually improves our physical and mental health and allows rewiring to happen in the brain. Gratitude causes oxytocin to be produced. This is the same hormone produced in nursing mothers that enables them to bond with their children. It creates a feeling of connection to others rather than feelings of separateness. When we express gratitude and receive the same from others, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions that make us “feel good.” They enhance our mood immediately and make us feel happy from the inside.
A 2012 study in Personality and Individual Differences says grateful people experience fewer aches and pains, report feeling healthier than other people, exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors. Robert Emnas, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well being. He has found gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. His research confirms that gratitude effectively reduces depression.
So, as I end the night snuggling under the covers with my ceiling fan blowing cool air, I add deep gratitude for my seventy six years on this magnificent Earth and for the tiny glimpses of goodness and beauty that I have experienced during the gift of another day.