“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.
“Furthermore, feelings of gratitude directly activated brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine.” Psychology Today
Rubbing your eyes as the light enters your bedroom, pushing down on that soft eyelid skin with your index finger, it occurs to you how lucky you are just to have eyelids in the first place. Imagine life without them. [No, don’t!] Is there a poem about eyelids, because they deserve it, they do. Be grateful for them. Breathe in. Breathe in through your eyelids, then through your eyes.
An eyelash has irksomely lodged itself in your left eye, and as you pull the lid down to try to get it out, lying there staring at the ceiling with your one good eye, you notice something — and that is that this bedroom ceiling of yours doesn’t have that cottage cheese texture, the ugly blow-on stuff you hate. [Don’t like, rather.] [Bonus gratitude points for not being a hater.] It’s a smooth ceiling. Hallelujah!
Breathe out, feeling the joy of not having something in your life you don’t like. For that, my friend, is gratitude, as well. You are not in a war-torn country. You are not in a straightjacket. You are not wrongfully imprisoned and in a jail cell for the rest of your brain-frying days. In fact, you are not in a place that is not one of the most beautiful places on earth! Thank you. And thank you, double negatives, for yet another miracle of language. Two minuses equal a plus. Thank you, some form of mathematics or philosophy or whatever that is.
Speaking of cottage cheese, what a deliciously old-fashioned treat. And, yes, in this life, you’ve been gifted a substantial amount of cheese, not just cottage, but some very, very high quality and tasty and esteemed cheese, indeed, some of it shared on picnics in lovely places such as rugged mountain bluffs with golden leaves cascading down like coins.
It’s easy to be grateful for cheese, if you’re a cheese lover. Breathe in and smell the cheese, breathe out and unsmell it as you focus on the falling leaves, right outside your window, leaves with yellows so yellow they cling to your ribcage and warm your heart. Goodness, let’s have some gratitude for the mind’s eye, fashioning all these metaphors into a heartwarming vest. [Is there a mind’s eyelid?]
Breathe in what you remember autumn smells like, that leafy, deciduous, crisp, dank, rotting, earthen, and heady smell that makes you sigh in delicious tenderness. Should there be more gratitude for a) the nose or b) the smell itself? Thank you, notions that are hard to parse, because they make your brain feel stretchy, a stretchiness that indicates new neural pathways. [And thank you, power of the imagination, not just for the mind’s eye but the mind’s nose when we actually smell what we are thinking we smell.]
Breathe in hard, with your eyes wide open, breathe out making a little “Oh” mouth, because Oh! (with eyes wide open) is a syllable of delight and gratitude. And it makes you smile — eventually. Thank you, 26 muscles that make you smile and the mystery of why extending your mouth into an upward arc makes you feel good even when you don’t feel much like doing it. Thank you bad moments that contrast and then morph into good — eventually. Would there be light without dark? Rainbows without rain? Sometimes it’s darkest just before a smile.
Thanks, aphorisms, now known as affirmations. Thank you, clever people who formulate pithy one-liners that spark us out of victimhood and sadness and helplessness and frustration and misery and being stagnant.
Here we are, at the core of this meditation. Breathe in and out about two hundred times, simply acknowledging the breath, which, in a nutshell, is human life itself.
Eventually, you hear the teakettle, and seriously, at this point, you feel that the steam itself should be thanked. Why not? Water making a variety of sounds — from whistling, to gushing over rocks, to crashing onto sand, to landing hard on the earth in sheets of rain, to the gurgling of a tiny desk fountain — is brilliant. So, gracias, copper kettle, for your urgent call, and for the coffee that is about to be made by someone else.
And are you ready to say thank you, when the coffee arrives? You bet your sweet dopamine receptors you are.