A couple of weeks ago I was meditating as I watched the flames of a campfire dance about the logs. It occurred to me that our bodymind is very much like the logs that provide the fuel for the fire. The flames represent our life force or shen as it is known in traditional Chinese medicine. Like the logs, our bodymind requires constant replenishment or the body will become nothing more than ashes and the warm flickering flames will cease to exist – we burn out.
How do we fuel the bodymind? 1) healthy diet, 2) healthy lifestyle and 3) healthy attitude. For this discussion, we’ll focus on attitude.
Our attitude, the product of how we perceive our experience and the emotion it creates, has a profound effect on physical health through neuropeptides. Neuropeptides are molecules that activate a physical response to emotion in the body. For example, neuropeptides are responsible for making your face flush when you’re embarrassed or blood pressure to rise when you’re angry.
Our perception determines the emotional response to a situation. The type of emotional response determines the type of neuropeptides produced. The chemical reactions that occur when the neuropeptides bind to the cells of the body can be harmful or healthful. Distress, guilt, anger and resentment create harmful effects from neuropeptides, while peaceful, loving, accepting, nurturing, and appreciative emotions produce healthful effects. The cells of the body actually become addicted to the neuropeptides that are produced most often.
How we perceive our present experience depends on our past experience and the emotions that are tied to them. For example, if you grew up in a household where money was scarce, more likely than not, you will perceive money to be hard to come by. Is your glass half full or half empty?
Changing perception and therefore attitude:
In order to have a positive perception of our experiences, and therefore a healthier response of neuropeptide production, we must train our brain to see the silver lining.
Practicing gratitude can improve attitude and prevent burnout. By practicing gratitude, we affirm that there are good things in the world that provide gifts and benefits we’ve received and the feeling of wanting and needing is diminished.
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude increases happiness and satisfaction, reduces anxiety and depression and has a plethora of health benefits, such as strengthening the immune system and lowering blood pressure.
People who practice gratitude sleep better and wake feeling more rested. Grateful people recover from traumatic events faster. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship.
When we feel good about ourselves, we are more likely to take care of ourselves and reach out and assist others.
How To’s of Gratitude:
Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is like any other skill – you have to practice. It helps to recognize your negative thoughts – and don’t condemn yourself as that’s just more negative. Instead, just say, “there it is again” and move on by making a note of something you are grateful for – even if it’s just, “I’m so grateful I recognized that!”
Keep a gratitude book. Write in it every day and refer back to it on days when you don’t feel so great. Visual reminders to practice gratitude are terrific and include bracelets, gratitude rocks and phone apps. Expressing your appreciation to others is also helpful because it acknowledges that they have done something for you, which in turn increases your sense of self worth.
Make gratitude a habit or an addiction – remember those neuropeptides? Why not make feeling good through gratitude a habit? Give up struggle by giving up negative thoughts. If something isn’t working, find a better way rather than dwelling on it. Soon, instead of recognizing the hassles, the brain acknowledges the good. Allow goodness to permeate your body and mind. Surrender to an extraordinary ordinary life and SHINE with gratitude!