Ester Marsh: Practicing gratefulness

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2023

Gratitude definition: The quality of being thankful, readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

It doesn’t matter who I talk to, we all seem to agree that the pandemic has made the majority of the people ungrateful. Not everyone, but many. And it’s not age related either. And I am not going to lie, when people are being ungrateful, unkind or disrespectful, it’s difficult to stay kind, respectful and grateful myself. And before long, and many already are, we all are unkind to each other.

So this is my challenge to you is to practice gratefulness. Did you know that gratitude can boost the neurotransmitter serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine? And dopamine is the brain’s chemical that makes you feel happy! How awesome is that? By changing our thoughts and actions into positive, grateful and thankful thoughts, the happier and healthier we feel.

Remember what I said about COVID-19? We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship can be shipwrecked and mine might not be, or vice versa. Everyone has challenges in their lives. Something might not be a big deal to us, but it may be to someone else. We all are in different storms on various boats. Practicing mindfulness and gratitude can truly change the brain. It can change so we can react differently to challenging situations, events or people. At one point, we thought the fully grown brain didn’t change much when matured. Much research has shown the opposite. The brain is designed to adapt constantly, whether fully grown or not. Neuroscientist Richie Davidson at the Center of Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wants us to know three things:

  • You can train your brain to change
  • The change is measurable
  • New ways of thinking can change it for the better

Practicing gratitude and mindfulness can be done through your church. One of my best friends, Sacha Roberts, guides people through mindfulness sessions. Many yoga classes help you center your mind and your body, and spread kindness instead of hate. If you feel it’s too much to do on your own, many therapists are specialized to help you “reset” your brain. We are a pill popping society. Unfortunately many people would rather take a pill to feel better or lose weight. Of course, many times medication is needed in combination with therapy, exercise and healthy diet.

Open your mind for change and living healthy, both spiritually and physically. Lives (and your brain) progress constantly and we should strive to adapt. I found these six steps to mindfulness meditation that are easy to do:

1. Get comfortable, find a quiet place where you are not disturbed. (Sacha started in her closet!)

2. Find a position on the floor or chair where you feel comfortable.

3. Get relaxed (maybe roll your shoulders, yawn, breathe out deeply)

4. Focus on your breaths (maybe by count, 4 counts in, 4 counts out)

5. Bring your thought back to center (maybe a candle, little light, a cross, etc. to keep your mind from wondering)

6. Make a commitment

Lifting your spirits, changing your brain and adjusting how you react to situations all take work. But how cool is it that you actually change your brain, as you can change your body with exercises for the spirit, body and mind? And it all starts with ourselves…

Ester H. Marsh is director of healthy living of J.F. Hurley Family YMCA.