Practicing Gratitude is Good Medicine—4 simple, powerful ways to begin now
In the United States of America, November is a prime time to talk about ‘gratitude’. After all, we have an entire holiday dedicated to the idea of giving thanks.
You may be wondering what an article about gratitude has to do with herbal medicine. Quite a bit as it turns out. Giving thanks begins early in herbal medicine, with the longstanding tradition of saying a prayer of thanks before thoughtfully harvesting an herb and expressing gratitude for the plant's gifts. I believe this lovely practice adds to the innate medicine within the plant.
And, from results in my clinic, I have witnessed that lifestyle interventions (such as practicing gratitude) are as vital as herbs are in moving a person toward a sense of well-being.
Throughout my herbal education, my personal definition of ‘medicine’ took on a much broader scope than Merriam-Webster’s primary entry: “a substance or preparation used in treating disease”, and I came to embrace the secondary definition of the word: “something that affects well-being” as absolutely true. In that sense, I consider the non-substance interventions in my clinic as a powerful and central part of the ‘medicine’ in an herbalist’s toolbox.
Gratitude benefits giver and receiver
Imagine the last time that you received thanks for a kind deed or gift given? Remember the heartfelt gratitude bubbling up in your chest, how it put a smile on your face, maybe even brought a tear to your eye? Did it make you feel ‘good’, or even ‘better’ than you’d felt in a while?
What about a time when you gave sincere, heartfelt gratitude to someone for a kindness or present received? Did you experience similar feelings in your body and mind? Did it feel good to acknowledge someone for a good deed, when you saw their face light up in your thoughtfulness?
For those who like science, know that research is showing these positive feelings are having good effects in your body. Consider this paper from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: “Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life” (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
This studied looked at moods, coping behaviors, health behaviors, physical symptoms, and overall life appraisals in groups that focused on gratitude and groups that focused on hassles. The authors said: "Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits” (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
For more info. on the science of gratitude and other healthy lifestyle practices, check out the Greater Good Science Center.
Modern life is rushed, harried. It can be hard to slow down and take a moment to appreciate a good deed or a kind word – or receive the same. Here's some tips to get started.
For an emotional boost, try one (or all) of these things:
1. To someone you care about, or even a total stranger, verbally offer sincere – and specific – gratitude for a good deed or a kind word. Observe in your body how it makes you feel while also observing the reaction in the recipient.
2. When someone thanks you for a good deed or a kind word, resist the urge to brush it off as nothing, take a deep breath and practice responding “you’re welcome”.
3. Silently, when the mood strikes, take a moment to privately acknowledge an amazing sunset, a beautiful painting, or even a smile from a stranger. Practice being aware of all of the gifts the world has to offer.
4. Start a Gratitude Journal. Every night before bed, write down three “good things” that happened that day. They could be simple things such as, “I had a really good bowl of ice cream”, or more impactful such as “my boss gave me a raise” – anything at all where you can find joy. If not at first, over time you will begin to see all the amazing, seemingly small, things in the world to be grateful for.
Finally, no piece on gratitude and herbal medicine would be complete without honoring at least one important teacher, in this case, Bob Duggan — the late, great co-founder of the Tai Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts (now Maryland University of Integrative Health), and a generous and wise practitioner. Bob opens this Tedx talk by asking audience members to stand if they feel they receive enough acknowledgement in their lives. Very few people rise. Bob continues to discuss the importance – and value – of acknowledging our fellow human beings. It is a basic need that, in today’s fast-paced world, often goes unmet. Even when we do receive a compliment or an expression of appreciation, it’s very hard to accept it. We downplay the significance of our actions, or make up reasons why it wasn’t a big deal, instead of taking it all in and replying “thank you for saying that”, or simply a heartfelt “you’re welcome”.
The beauty of gratitude is that it doesn’t cost anything despite being of great value to your sense of well-being, and you can practice it anywhere and anytime.
This Thanksgiving Day is the perfect time to start.
Emmons, R. A., McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.
Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master's Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.
Donna currently practices as the professional herbalist at the MUIH Natural Care Center (410-888-9048x6614) in Laurel, Maryland. Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at www.greenhavenliving.com, or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 240-353-8754.