In a world where global challenges change, political activities and socioeconomic situations may prevail in the media, and are the centers of most conversations for many people, I have to invite you to be present, centered and focused on what truly needs more attention: living in gratitude. When ‘collective chaos’ is perceived and promoted, you will find the peaceful answer within yourself. Sometimes, or many times, we forget to give thanks, for (at least) the most essential: our life. There are many reasons to be thankful.
Recently, I started to reflect deeply about being grateful, and looking back into my life, there is so much I am thankful for today, mainly because I am healthy, happy, at peace, I have a supportive family, I love my career as a Naturopathic physician, and I have the great virtue of compassion for others. But after all the ups and downs, I have developed a personal practice of consistent gratitude which always gives me the best perspective of my life, vision and purpose.
Gratitude is a commitment to life, love, truth and trust.
When you live in gratitude you radiate hope, peace and joy. Cultivating gratitude may be easier than it seems. Gratitude can be practiced effortlessly. By just observing, recognizing and being grateful for the simplest to the most miraculous things in your daily encounters with the world, you may have a sense and feeling of accomplishment. For example, every day I recognize beauty from the flowers in the gardens of my backyard to the landscapes and beaches I appreciate by living on an island. I also make small affirmations in the mornings, which are focused mainly on how grateful I am or I should feel for everything in my life. This is a mindful instrument to acknowledge and reduce any feeling of uncertainty, or anxiety I may have related to potential challenges that could arise during the day, personally, and as a doctor. As I give thanks every morning, I present myself to each day full of positivity and hope. I recommend this tool to most of my patients as it can be beneficial for them as well. Throughout my experiences, I consider that being grateful is a personal commitment.
Gratitude goes hand in hand with compassion and kindness.
Living in gratitude also involves appreciating your life, the resources you have, and the lives of others around you. It may be time for you to look around and appreciate the people who have contributed in your life, even those who haven’t as all of those individuals have helped you become who you are today. They can be your family, friends, bosses, partners, co-workers, ex-boss, ex-partner, ex-friend, among others. For me, there are, and have been, significant people in my life who have taught me, and continue to teach me, to be even more grateful. Currently, many people, including my family and patients are always motivating me to be grateful. Directly or indirectly, every person around you could contribute to your life. One example I can give you is a little boy I met at a Pediatric hospital in my homeland Puerto Rico. Prior to attending naturopathic medical school, when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico, I participated in diverse volunteer activities and each of them touched my heart. I went almost every Friday for a whole semester to this hospital to spend a few hours with sick children and give them company, tell them stories, do arts and crafts, or just play with them. I connected with a 6-year-old child who had cancer, and I used to see him in all my visits to the hospital. During that Christmas, the little boy received a visit from Santa Claus, who asked him, “What do you want for Christmas?” and the little boy said, “I don’t want toys, I just do not want to have cancer.” That event always brings tears to my eyes, and today I remember him with nostalgia and sorrow since, unfortunately, he passed away. I learned so much from him; mainly to value life, health, and encourage me to serve more people in need, with dignity, respect and love. Perhaps you have several events, people, or circumstances that have touched your life in some way, knowing that this has contributed to who you are today. Even though we may experience difficult times, adversities or necessities, we have to trust that they will pass, and the next chapter will be better. When reflecting on these experiences, and seeing how grateful your heart and soul are for each and every one of them. Gratitude can be brought into our lives by continuous introspection. Each day, and with each experience, we can consciously appreciate our lives, and the lives of people around us.
I invite you to continue with these following recommended acts of appreciation.
1. Create a routine of gratitude.
You can give and express thanks in the mornings when you first wake up, at nights when you are about to go to sleep, during your prayers, meditation or spiritual practice of preference, before each meal, at all times, to every person who comes in contact with you today. Simply create your personal ‘gratitude routine’ or ‘gratitude space’, and say thank you. You will see a better perspective of life.
2. Make an act of kindness.
Just be kind to each person, friend, family member, stranger and the community you are part of. There could be many opportunities to acknowledge how special they are, their necessity and their existence in this world. You can make money, time, and love donations! To give you an idea, there are many elderly people, women, men, children, families, homeless people, among other human beings, and also animals, in our communities, who do not have the essential resources that you and I have, and that we should be thankful for each and every day. Perhaps you have a friend or family member in need or who you have lost contact with for awhile. Why don’t you call or go visit them? Extend a hand of support and compassion today, tomorrow, or at any time you are available. You can become a volunteer of an organization, or you can make small gestures of kindness to any person or animal in your community. This gesture will give you a greater perspective on how grateful you should be, and also give you a sense of belonging to your community, promoting healthy friendships and interpersonal relationships.
3. Write thanks.
Introspect, and connect with yourself, your past, present and future. Take a moment of silence with yourself, and make a list or write phrases in a notebook, paper or journal of the things, people, places, moments, for which you must be thankful for today. Yes, even the ones you would like to experience in your future. By being thankful in advance for all the things that you would want to have, you create and invite abundance to come in your life. Write what and how you have felt or would like to feel at any circumstance from the point of view of gratitude. Sometimes we have to be grateful for the not-so-great things in our lives, challenges, failures and even the most shameful moments in life as this may generate a sense of self-compassion, acceptance and resiliency. When we realize that because we got up and moved on, we become stronger and transformed into a better version of ourselves. I define this as a work in progress, and is recommended to continuously and consciously do this practice in order to notice our growth and positive evolution.
4. Motivate others.
Be an example. Once other people see your motivation to do, act and remain grateful, they will want to join your efforts. Invite, encourage, and motivate people around you with humility and respect, to practice appreciation. You will notice how magical it could be for your family, work environment, and community to promote and immerse in this practice with joy.
Why did I decide to write about gratitude?
As a woman, I would like for all human beings around the world to live their lives from a place of gratitude. I have noticed that we may complain a lot about life, and not necessarily take at least one minute to say thank you. Also, as a doctor, I want to encourage you to be more grateful every day because it is good for your health. I want to share that it has been scientifically proven that being grateful is very beneficial for our health. There is countless scientific evidence related to the practice of gratitude. Among many studies, few indicate that it can assist the immune and cardiovascular systems, and it stimulates the secretion of “happy” hormones in the body, such as oxytocin, which has been linked to positive social-behavioral connections (1). Gratitude journaling may improve biomarkers related to heart failure morbidity, such as reduced inflammation (2). It also cultivates essential and genuine virtues in our personality. Therefore, when being grateful becomes part of you, it can be practiced effortlessly and naturally. Given the fact that emotional intelligence is positively associated with gratitude and well-being of individuals (3), it greatly enhances mental and emotional health of the person that is grateful, which is very important in the challenging times we face.
It’s amazing to realize how something as small as giving thanks can have such real, significant and incredible effects on ourselves. It is more powerful than we think. Great news! The best of all is that it’s free, accessible, and you could do it whenever you like. We can spread it easily too. Therefore, give thanks today and give thanks always. I encourage you to start practicing gratitude on a regular basis as part of a daily routine, or during a significant phase or event in your life, which will encourage resiliency and harmony in your life. How about if you practice gratitude for the next 21 days? You can now let go of fear, doubt and resentment. I am sure your physical, spiritual, mental and emotional self will be thankful for deciding to continue with this simple commitment.
(1) Sara B. Algoe, Baldwin M. Way; Evidence for a role of the oxytocin system, indexed by genetic variation in CD38 , in the social bonding effects of expressed gratitude . Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2014; 9 (12): 1855-1861. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst182
(2) Redwine, Laura S., et al. “Pilot randomized study of a gratitude journaling intervention on heart rate variability and inflammatory biomarkers in patients with stage B heart failure.” Psychosomatic medicine 78.6 (2016): 667-676.
(3) Geng, Y. (2016). Gratitude mediates the effect of emotional intelligence on subjective well-being: A structural equation modeling analysis. Journal of Health Psychology, 1359105316677295.
Dr. Maria Del Mar Rodriguez is a licensed Naturopathic physician and a proud member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Puerto Rico Association of Naturopathic Physicians (PRANP). Her commitment and passion is to motivate individuals and communities globally to be conscious of their health through personalized, compassionate and integrative care. She graduated from the accredited medical school, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Arizona, after completing her Bachelor’s degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Puerto Rico. She has broad experience in public health and clinical research, and combines modern science and naturopathic modalities, considering the person as a whole and unique individual, understanding underlying causes of disease. She has offered naturopathic medical care to diverse, including underserved families, in Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Puerto Rico.