Gratitude and generosity are interdependent attitudes of mindfulness that engender and strengthen one another. They are powerful G-forces that act in the opposite direction of destructive emotions such as hatred, jealousy, greed, resentment and ill-will. Just as with the other attitudes of mindfulness, they can be cultivated through practice.
Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness for what we have received – acknowledging the good, especially that which comes from or exists outside of us. If we consider closely, we begin to realize that nothing good we possess, tangible or intangible, has been generated by ourselves alone. Even the very cells of our bodies are externally influenced. Gratefulness involves accepting what is, being in the now, and getting unhooked from “I, me and mine“.
Research indicates a higher level of gratitude is correlated with a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, more positive emotions including joy, optimism, and happiness, greater generosity and compassion, and decreased feelings of loneliness and isolation. According to the John Templeton Foundation, people who feel grateful give, on average, 20 percent more time and money to charity. In addition, gratitude also often leads to taking only what is needed. Appreciating what you have creates a sense of satisfaction, contentment, and “enoughness”. To learn more about the power of gratitude, watch Robert Emmons excellent Greater Good talk on the topic.
Practicing contentment is a radical act in a consumption-driven society. – Robin Wall Kimmerer
Sometimes called a buoyancy practice because it lightens the weight of fear and compassion, gratitude revitalizes and sustains our attention through noticing and savoring the good. It dispels feelings of scarcity by allowing us to discern a true lack of needs that should be met from speculative worries and what ifs. This frees up energy to respond with wisdom rather than spinning our wheels in rumination.
Gratitude Home Practices:
- Notice caring acts and everyday experiences of joy and express appreciation, let it sink in
- Keep a gratitude journal in which you document something each day for which you are grateful
- Make a gratitude visit – think of someone who has had a significant impact in your life, expresses gratitude in a letter or note, and then deliver the letter to them.
- Pay it forward – respond to a kindness done to you by passing it on to someone else
Generosity has been described as the act of giving oneself over to life. We can be generous with ourselves and with others, but acting generously with regard to the welfare of another acknowledges our interconnection and brings a special kind of joy. Generosity doesn’t always have to involve material things. One of the greatest gifts we can give is our attention. Giving thanks and encouragement, easing human suffering, acting in a way that helps equalize inequities, and creating social justice are all forms of generosity.
The Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame has funded a number of studies which have demonstrated a relationship between generosity, happiness and well-being. They discovered a seeming paradox in which freely giving of oneself makes us ultimately richer than hanging on tightly to what we perceive as ours.
Generosity involves a certain nonattachment to resources, cultivating an attitude of abundance versus a mind of scarcity. This requires fearlessness and courage. True generosity also requires non-attachment to outcome. We endeavor to give freely, without conditions on how gifts are used or whether something is received in return. This sort of giving has nothing to do with I, me or mine– its free from ego. Through the act of giving, something precious is received – essentially the giver and receiver become one. Giving without attachment to ego or outcome connects us with the whole of humanity and awakens us to our true nature.
A recent study investigated the relationship between generosity and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), which is related to emotional regulation and social engagement in children. A responsive RSA indicates adaptability to situational changes in life. Results suggested that children experience a soothing of the central nervous system when giving to others, a flexibly adaptive nervous system was supportive of greater generosity, and children with parents who rated themselves as more compassionate tended to be more generous.
Suggestions for Generosity Home Practice:
- Practice compassionate breathing – notice how the in-breath nourishes and the out-breath soothes, mentally send something good to others on the out-breath and something nourishing to yourself on the in-breath.
- Step out of automatic pilot – notice the ways in which you give without even really thinking about it as well as the ways in which you resist giving or take unnecessarily. When we notice resistance to giving or a tendency to take, this creates space for choice in which a spirit of generosity can arise.
- Lovingkindness to go – when driving or riding in a vehicle, at every stop, take a full breath, check in and then wish yourself or another well. “May we be happy. May we be content. May we live with ease.” If you use public transportation, when you take your seat, send yourself and your fellow travelers phrases of loving kindness.
- Give the gift of attention – when you are standing in line, pumping gas, or sitting in a waiting room, silently extend goodwill to those around you. Engage people you encounter in friendly conversation, look them in the eye, and really listen when they speak.
- Harness your devices for good – use your various notifications, alerts and reminders to prompt you to pause, take a breath, and send yourself and others well-wishes.
- Acknowledge the humanity of someone in need – here in the city we often encounter people asking for support. When this happens say hello to them, inquire into their wellbeing, and give some resources or encouragement. I keep $5 fast food gift cards on hand for this purpose.
- Respond generously with compassion to your children when they are struggling
Once the “Sacred Fire” of compassion and gratitude is ignited, we find a deep generosity of spirit within ourselves, authentic identity, and our true belonging. – Stephen Sims
Join the Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness for our Intro to Mindfulness course for a more in-depth exploration of the attitudinal factors that, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “constitute the major pillars of mindfulness practice”.
A Network for Grateful Living -A global organization offering online and community-based educational programs and practices, which inspire and guide a commitment to grateful living, and catalyze the transformative power of personal and societal responsibility. We hold grateful living as an engaged mindfulness practice, grounded in both wisdom and science, which supports our ability to see the wonder and opportunity in every moment, and motivates us to act boldly with love, generosity, and respect towards one another, ourselves, and the Earth.
Tara Brach: Talks on Gratitude & Generosity