Every creature on this planet has at least one superpower. Ants can carry 50 times their
own bodyweight, hummingbirds can fly backwards, humans can express gratitude. This
may sound trite, but gratitude is our superpower. A superpower we know about, pay lip
service too, but don’t fully take into our hearts and honour.
There is plenty of scientific research, proving what the wisdom traditions have always
known to be true: Gratitude makes us happier, healthier, and kinder.
How does our superpower work? Science has found that gratitude both triggers the
release of dopamine and serotonin and reduces cortisol levels.
This translates into gratitude:
Improves the quality of sleep
Strengthens the immune system
Alleviates physical pain
Optimises blood pressure and cardiac functioning
Leads to greater emotional intelligence and resilience
Improves communication and interpersonal relationships
Deepens ones sense of connection with others and the planet.
Promotes empathy and self-love
Sounds like a superpower to me.
Let’s take a moment to explore this superpower. Is it possible to sense it for ourselves? To
feel it in our cells?
Take a few breaths and see how you are feeling at this moment. Notice where you are
reading this. At home, in transit? Is it quiet or loud? Are you at ease, stressed, a mix of
both? What are your internal vibes like? Notice your breath and how your body feels.
Take a few more breaths to fully feel into all of this.
Now take a moment and think of five things/people/places/etc you are grateful for.
Count them on your fingers. Breathe each one in and on the exhale offer it your gratitude.
I will breathe along with you. I am grateful for: My eyesight and the colour blue. The sound
of water. The taste of cinnamon. The smell of a cedar forest. The feeling of sunshine on
How do you feel now? Was there a shift in your body or mood?
Each time I take a moment like this, where I pause and truly feel in freshly what am I
grateful for in the moment, I do notice the shift. Something, I hadn’t realised had frozen in
me, always melts. My shoulders drop. There is a sense of more space in my chest. I feel a
little lighter and more capacitated.
Of course, the beat passes. Life continues. Things get complicated, stressful, messy.…
Our superpower needs cultivation. There are three circumstances where we need to focus
on building up our capacity to be grateful:
- When things are going badly
- When things are fine
- When thing are doing great
Let’s start with “when things are going great.” For example, you are on holiday or a retreat.
Many years ago, while I was on retreat, Luis, a volunteer at the center taught me a
precious grift. He taught me to say, “Yes thank you. That would be great.” Time after time,
Luis came up to me offering me things: an extra pillow, towel, hot water bottle (I was
camping and its was raining and cold). My reflex at first was to say, “no thank you. I’m
okay.” Each time I did, he looked so disappointed. When I changed my mind and said, “yes
please,” his face lit up. He practically ran off and to get me whatever extra treat it was he
wanted to share with me.
On the last day of the retreat, Luis was still eating lunch when I was bringing in my dishes.
He turned to me and asked, “Would you like chocolate covered strawberries?”
“That sounds amazing Luis. I would love some.” He jumped up with the biggest smile and ran into the kitchen. A moment later, he was there with a plate full of chocolate covered strawberries.
Luis taught me to delight his generosity. To accept it fully. To be grateful for the beauty and
comfort that is there and be open to even more. A favourite film always comes to mind
when I think of Luis. “Thankyouhappymoreplease.” That’s the title of film and such a
great way to meet life when thing are going well. “Thankyouhappymoreplease.”
What about accessing gratitude, “when things are going badly?” Like this summer, when
visiting my family after four years, I got an ear infection and ended up in the emergency
room in a lot of pain. It is natural at moments like this to give out. Equally natural is to feel
grateful. Lying in pain, I did my gratitude practice. I counted on my fingers what am I
grateful fir in this moment? Thankful for the hospital. Thankful for my access to it. Thankful
to all the people working in it. Thankful for the antibiotics and their superpower magic.
Thankful for my body. Yes thankful to my body that was in a lot of pain.
It’s so easy to blame and judge our bodies. To beat them up when they don’t work as we
want them to. My poor ear got attacked and it was doing all that is could to fight off the
infection. Bodies get injured and sick. Bodies age. That’s what bodies do and usually they
are blamed for it. In reality, they are doing their best with what they have got to keep us
alive and ticking. I think that deserves recognition and a whole lot of appreciation.
Of course it’s not easy to do when we are sick and in pain. But when we can, the pain, the
sickness, is so much easier to bear. Remember reading above, science has proven that
gratitude alleviates physical pain. It does. There is still pain but instead of being in conflict
with the pain, fighting the pain, we are befriending it. We are turning towards the difficult
sensations with our superpower. “Thank you body for doing your best. I know it is
really hard right now.”
Finally, how do we cultivate more gratitude “when things are fine?” This is the neutral
flavour, which I find can be the most tricky. We tend to tune out when things are just
flowing along. We distract ourselves and don’t fully pay attention to what is going on. This
leads to more automatic pilot living, which is a duller, more disconnect life.
One way to remember to practice gratitude in the normal moments is with a gratitude
stone. I love collecting tiny smooth stones from beaches or river beds. I often gift them to
others. Inviting people to keep them in the pocket of a favourite jacket or bag. Each time
your hand comes in contact with the stone, you pause and think of one thing you are
grateful for. Then you move on with your day.
It is a simple act and can read as cheesy, but I swear it makes a difference. The more we
practice gratitude, the more me make this a neural pattern. Changing it from a trait to a
state. Hebb’s Law states, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Making happiness
easily accessible in our day to day living no matter what we currently encountering.
I will leave you with one last bit of science pertaining to our superpower. Expressing and
feeling gratitude affect the brain differently. There is more activity in the medial prefrontal
cortex when one expresses gratitude.
So feeling grateful is one thing, but expressing it is something that much more powerful. So I invite to do all the above out loud. Or if that is not your style, write it down. It’s pretty awesome knowing you have a superpower. It is even more fantastic using. Enjoy!