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The Power of Thankfulness

 

 

By Dr. Brenda Shoshanna November 2007

 

There is one sure fire medicine which cures all pain and opens the way for your greater good. It allows you to sleep well at night, wake up refreshed and filled with enthusiasm for your daily tasks and ongoing relationships. This medicine is abundantly available, has no side effects and can be taken in large or small doses regularly. You need no one to prescribe it. The more you take, the sweeter it is.

The medicine is the practice of thankfulness. Although there are endless cures for anxiety, one thing is impossible - to be upset and grateful at the same time.

When we take thankfulness on as a practice, we see that it is more than a fleeting feeling; instead it becomes a daily practice, a basic way of life. In fact, no matter what we are feeling, we can always perform deeds of thanks; actions that express our gratitude and awareness of the good we constantly receive. Actually, when we perform these actions, our feelings often turn themselves around.

Thankfulness takes many forms, but unless it is translated into action it does not have the ongoing impact we are speaking of. But as we constantly express our gratitude we inevitably become more and more aware of all we have to be grateful for, and all we have to give. Feelings of emptiness and deprivation vanish. Our giving to others begins to arise not from obligation or debt, not from being superior to another, but from the fullness we all receive.

 

There are two important aspects of this practice; one works with our actions, the other with our attention and focus. Rather than give in to our usual self-centered focus, in the practice of thankfulness, we take our attention off our habitual complaining mind, and continually make ourselves aware of what we are receiving, moment by moment, day by day.

We often feel that we are constantly giving but receive little back. Many of the complaints in relationships arise from this root. However, when instead we focus upon all we receive, we may become shocked, even overwhelmed. A strong support and underpinning for this practice comes from Naikan therapy, which was developed in Japan. Naikan is simple, simple, direct and incredibly powerful. It can be done by anyone at anytime. In Naikan, we take time to focus upon and answer three fundamental questions; it is best to get a notebook for this, sit down and write your answers down, very carefully and specifically. A Naikan sitting usually takes from thirty to forty minutes. The three questions are:

What did I receive today?

What did I give today?

What trouble or pain did I cause today?

 

Answering these questions carefully and persistently can change our lives. The third question does not exist to create guilt, but simple awareness of our behavior and its effect upon others. When we notice that we have caused some trouble or pain, we can then simply correct it. And once we are aware of it, it is much less likely we will do it again.

We do not ask how was I hurt or upset today. The mind constantly dwells upon this question and the purpose of Naikan is to balance our lives and minds.

 

We can do Naikan on the day, or on anything else. In the Naikan retreats that go on, we do Naikan on relationships, taking three years at a sitting.

What did I receive from this person?

What did I give to this person?

What trouble or pain did I cause this person?

As we do this wonderful simple practice daily we naturally become more aware of and grateful for the many, many gifts we constantly receive (most of which we have either taken for granted or been unaware of. The fullness we usually seek in others comes to us on its own. And then, inevitably we just want to give back. It happens naturally. When we are so filled with thanks and plenty, it is impossible not to do so.

 

The practice of thankfulness, of acknowledging others, giving back to them, being aware of and moved by the good we are giving, can heal many aspects of a life. It washes old hurts and resentments away. It opens the door for good to arrive. It is a gift we give to ourselves which others receive simultaneously.

When an individual leaves a relationship, or is not functioning well in it, the bottom line is that there has been a lack of gratitude - they feel unappreciated, unacknowledged, unknown for who they truly are and all they can be. When flowers receive plenty of sun and water, they grow unabashedly. Human relationships are no different. The sun of gratitude goes a very long way.

By doing "deeds of thanks", expressing our thankfulness through actions, for example, giving of gifts - emotional gifts, physical gifts, gifts of service, friendliness, honesty, a strong foundation is built in any relationship - a foundation which allows the relationship to thrive. These deeds must be performed consistently, much the way we brush our teeth each day.

 

When you awake in the morning and face heaviness or sadness that day, simply ask yourself "What can I do to make this day wonderful for someone? What do they need? How can I help supply that need?

In this practice we take our focus off our expectations of the other and instead focus upon how we can help them to grow. This is not a matter of self-sacrifice, but a matter of becoming all we truly are. Through giving to the other, we also grow. To do this we must change our focus, giving up the tunnel vision most of us have lived with our whole life long.

No relationship or project can falter when it is based upon deep caring for the other and for our true selves. Our true self wants to give, it wants to open its heart and sing songs. Unless our actions in relationships come out of this foundation, no lasting well being can occur.

 

A great psychologist - Jourard once said "We become sick because we act in sickening ways." When our actions, however, are firmly based upon giving and deeds of worth, this is the road to happy relationships and to lasting health.

Discover the surprising truths about love that will save your relationships, in Dr. Shoshanna’s new e-book Save Your Relationship (21 Basic Laws of Successful Relationships).

Dr. Shoshanna is a psychologist, relationships expert on iVillage.com, speaker, and author of many books, including The Anger Diet, (30 Days To Stress Free Living), Zen And The Art of Falling In Love, (Simon and Schuster), Why Men Leave (Putnam), and many others.  You can contact her, or visit her personal website.

 


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