By Deepak Chopra, MD
Although Thanksgiving Day has become a time for turkey and football, its true purpose lingers, often as a wistful hope that one could be truly thankful. You cannot conjure up thanks if you are focused on the world’s troubles and a constant stream of bad news. So how is true gratitude found?
As writer and teacher Dana Arcuri has said, “The more you are grateful for what you have, the more you can live fully in the present.”. Psychologically, research has shown that practicing gratitude measurably improves your well-being and on the physical side, your heart health.
Gratitude begins when we change our relationship with life from an attitude of rejecting and defending to one of acceptance and appreciation. We all need reminding about a truth expressed by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
When you spontaneously feel grateful for anything, don’t let the moment slip by. Pause, put your attention on the heart region in your chest, and experience the warm emotion suffusing it—this is how gratitude opens up the experience of love and bliss. At the same time you are making a mind-body connection. The sensation of warmth in your heart tells you that the message of gratitude has been sent and received by your cells. You can reinforce this connection by visualizing what you are grateful for; visualization is a powerful way to focus your intention.
Another very good practice is to lie in bed for a few minutes before falling asleep to review your day, bring to mind the things you are grateful for but were too busy to notice. Another quote is relevant, this one from the poet Maya Angelou: “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” In other words, feeling grateful can be a devotional meditation.
Many people feel grateful in a way that doesn’t go very deep, especially if their motivation is material. Being grateful for a great job, big house, and new car keeps everything on the surface. At a deeper emotional level we are grateful for our families and good health. But at the deepest level, gratitude acknowledges that you have the support of nature. This support underlies your whole existence. It comes to you from pure consciousness, expressing itself through your true self.
Your true self is connected to pure consciousness and everything that flows from it. There is also another self, the ego, that manipulates life for its own purposes. The ego constantly chooses between “I want this” and “I don’t want that.” Life proceeds by getting more of what you want and less of what you don’t want. But this process overlooks the values located in the true self: love, compassion, truth, beauty, discovery, creativity, and evolution.
Some of these values do manage to make it to the surface of life, but our birthright is to have much more of them. Gratitude is a way of opening the channel that will bring more, by contacting the true self and speaking from your heart. Buddha taught a gratitude meditation called “gladdening the heart,” instructing the aspirant to consider the wonderful circumstances that led them to seek spiritual awakening and the ability to achieve it. Thanksgiving Day may never match the wisdom of this kind of meditation, but you can start, beginning her and now to bring the power of gratitude into your life.
DEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a modern-day health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. He is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego. Chopra is the author of over 89 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.”