This article appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times, August 21, 2015
Buddhists issue ‘gratitude challenge’
by Philip Brown
One of the aims of spiritual life from a Buddhist perspective is to awaken a sense of joy in our existence. This joyfulness feels wonderful to us personally, and it can also serve to help us develop a benevolent and compassionate heart, in spite of the difficulties of everyday life.
A way to enhance our feeling of joyfulness comes through a deep acknowledgment of all that we have for which we are grateful. As Jack Kornfield, a prominent Buddhist teacher puts it, “Gratitude is a gracious acknowledgment of all that sustains us, a bow to our blessings, great and small, an appreciation of the moments of good fortune that sustain our life every day. Gratitude is confidence in life itself. It is not sentimental, not jealous, nor judgmental. Gratitude does not envy or compare. Gratitude receives in wonder the myriad offerings of the rain and the earth, the care that supports every single life” (from his book, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace).
One of the psychologists who has studied gratitude defines it in two parts. First, it must include an affirmation of goodness, that there are good thing in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. We need to identify something outside ourselves that we are grateful for. Second, it must include identifying the source of this goodness, where it comes from. For example, if I affirm I am grateful for the fresh ear of summer corn I am having for dinner, I need to consider and think about all the people it took to put that ear in my hands: the seed producer, the farmer who planted and grew it, the folks who made the combine harvester, the trucker who brought it to the store. We can think even more deeply and appreciate the soil, sun and water without which the corn could not have grown.
There have been a number studies that document many benefits of practicing gratitude. For example, at the physical level scientists report stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and better sleep for people who regularly engage in gratitude practice. At the psychological level, people report experiencing more positive emotions such as joy and pleasure, and being more optimistic and happy. Gratefulness also contributes to being more outgoing, forgiving, helpful to others, generous and compassionate.
In the process of being grateful we acknowledge that other people or planet earth, or God, if you are a believer in the divine, has given us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives. Gratitude has the added benefit of helping to reduce or block negative emotions, such as envy, resentment and regret, and helping us celebrate the present.
The gratitude challenge: This month the Buddhist Sangha of Bucks County has challenged its members and anyone who wants to try it, to a gratitude challenge. Each morning, note down three things for which you are grateful. The directions are simple –
First, think of something you are grateful for – use the definition above for guidance; remember, this is not about yourself (not, I am grateful for how smart I am), but about what you have received from others. Second, write it down. In the act of writing, both the object and reason for your choice become more concrete, and other aspects of what and why you are grateful are often revealed. Third, spend at least 15-20 seconds meditating on each entry before moving on to the next; consider it fully, emotionally and engage your heart. That’s it! The research shows that doing this consistently over a period of 6-8 weeks is already enough to start enjoying some of the benefits noted above.
We are grateful that the Courier Times has made this opportunity available to us to share this practice with you, and invite you to consider joining us in establishing your own gratitude practice!
Phil Brown is president of the Buddhist Sangha of Bucks County. From a Faith Perspective is a weekly column written by members of Lower Bucks faith communities.