A friend sent us a fascinating article on the strong influence that gratitude and positive emotions have on us. They not only affect us personally, but also influence the world around us. As meditators we know how powerful the mind and heart can be, but it is nice to see this also backed up by scientific research, in this case by a team at UCLA.
They had a controlled study of around 300 people, some of them suffering from depression. They asked one third of them to write a letter of gratitude to someone at least once per week for three weeks. Here are some of their conclusions:
Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive, and less resistant. Now that’s a really cool way of taking care of your well-being.
Interestingly, they found that you couldn’t fake it, that you had to actually feel grateful. Those who did the exercise out of guilt had very different brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the brain area of higher functioning. For those whose letters expressed true gratitude, however, the changes to their brain lasted for up to three months.
Here is another quote from the article:
Their work, [along with that of] many others, has proven that when a person is feeling really positive emotions like gratitude, love, or appreciation, the heart beats out a different message, which determines what kind of signals are sent to the brain.
In the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, there are many techniques, such as affirmation and chanting, that work directly on our heart and mind and raise our consciousness. We also know that our consciousness has effects far beyond ourselves.
The article cited one study showing that focused meditation lowered the amount of conflict in war-torn Lebanon, and another that showed a 25% drop in the crime rate in Washington, DC, when 2,500 meditators focused on that area with that intention.
Yesterday a group of four of us visited some friends who had just had a new baby. They remarked later that they’d felt so much calmness from our visit. We hadn’t been trying to produce that effect, we were just being our normal happy selves. The magnetic influence of our consciousness spreads automatically, however, to those around us.
Here is the conclusion of the article:
Emotions and other factors associated with consciousness have the power to transform our inner world in ways we don’t fully understand yet. These findings show how consciousness can actually transform the physical/material world, and that’s huge. This validates the idea that if we can change our inner world through gratitude, empathy, compassion, and meditation, we can make our outer world more peaceful.
After reading this article I have started a simple practice that I pass on to you as a suggestion. At the beginning of meditation when I pray to the masters in our lineage, I consciously feel grateful to each of them in turn for what he has given to me and my friends. It is a wonderful way to start and end the day.
So, my takeaway is this: Gratitude is the fast track to happiness, and your state of consciousness spreads outward to all those you touch. Be grateful, be happy, do good.
P.S. If you’re interested, you can find the article here.