It is not happiness which brings gratitude;
It is gratitude which brings happiness.
Amongst the practices and attitudes we can adopt and practice, gratitude is probably the most effective. It might, at first glance, seem soppy or religious. However, science has shown that grateful people are happier. If that isn’t enough, it also reduces harmful stress, improves your immune system, improves your sense of wellbeing, improves relationships, improves quality of sleep and heart health.
I have often mentioned the two (principal) parts of the mind: The Rational Mind (ie the “voice” in our head – that constant flow of thoughts) and the Observing Mind – that part of the mind which experiences the present moment directly and is able to see the bigger picture; it is also able to observe our own thoughts.
The Rational Mind is “king” in Western Culture. It is at once our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. In Eastern culture it’s the other way around: the Observing Mind is “king”.
True wisdom lies in finding the balance between these two – a middle path. This is exactly what we teach in our resilience training programmes
The western world has largely ignored the Observing Mind, whilst exclusively elevating the Rational Mind which favours clean simplified models. Thus, the “messy,” “fuzzy” non-linear aspects of human existence such as, emotions, feelings, suffering less and feeling happier – all clearly vital to health – were largely abandoned by science and left to the world of religion. Sadly, the interests of the religious organisation take precedence over the wellbeing and happiness of the individual; this is the case sooner or later for all religions.
Over the past thirty years or so this has begun to change; science has investigated, systemised and proven the effectiveness of many Buddhist ideas, concepts and practices. At the same time there is an effort to secularise them and make them easier to understand to the western mind. These include for example, compassion (for others and yourself), kindness and gratitude, amongst others.
An excellent place to start is with gratitude. To improve the quality of your sleep, make a habit of feeling gratitude for all aspects of your life including being alive, which is, in itself, a miracle! Keep a gratitude journal in which you can appreciate the great things in your life as well as the tough experiences and what you have learned from them. Be on the lookout for moments of natural goodness: notice the sky, the joy of a child, the smile of someone close to you, a refreshing breeze, the sunshine, a flower, the refreshing taste of cold water, the feeling of your sheets as you lie in your bed at the end of the day, a hug, a smile… The list is endless.