Inflammation is now known to be a contributing cause for many different health issues, and methods to reduce inflammation are finding their way into mainstream medicine. One recent study concluded that regularly practicing a particular activity reduced some of the biomarkers of inflammation, with a reduction sufficient to be medically significant. Another study showed that the regular practice of the same activity reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Other studies showed improvements in depression and suicidal thought, reductions in markers related to diabetes and improvements in sleep quality. What was this amazing activity? It was the practice of gratitude. Sometimes subjects were asked to keep a daily journal, writing what they were grateful for. In other studies, subjects were instructed to feel gratitude for something in their lives each day. In still others, subjects were asked to actually express gratitude to other people each day. The result was always the same, the practice of gratitude created positive changes in the body and mind.

In everyday life one can see that there is no limit to the opportunity to be grateful. Perhaps one is not wealthy, but one can be grateful that one has food to eat. You may be hard of hearing but you can be grateful that you can see.  I am older now, but I am grateful for having lived so many years. The list is endless, every event in our life is an opportunity to change one’s inner atmosphere by the expression of gratitude. The rude driver that cuts in front of me is an opportunity to appreciate that hundreds of other drivers on my morning commute did not do so. It is also not very difficult to see this in my actual relations with others. Expressing gratitude around others changes the atmosphere, not only within me, but the atmosphere in the room. An expression of gratitude creates an environment where others also express gratitude. It is almost magical. 

There is also the possibility to practice gratitude in regards to a scale that I hardly ever think about. I can be grateful for the very air I am breathing,  a perfect mixture of oxygen, nitrogen and other gases, or for the temperatures on Earth that are just right to sustain my life, for the distance I am from the sun, resulting in just the right amount of solar radiation for this ecosystem I live in. And for the fact that billions of years ago exploding stars created the elements that now make up my hands that are typing this. The same stars whose ending created elements which constitute your eyes, now reading this, and the cells of your brain, now understanding it. 

But the most remarkable quality of gratitude is that, if the expression of gratitude is sincere, gratitude results in transformation. At the moment of experiencing gratitude, a negative emotion or a negative point of view is transformed and dissolved. Manjushri, the great Mahayana bodhisattva, is depicted with a sword, the sword of discriminating wisdom by which confusion and ignorance are cut through. Gratitude is not a sword, it is a medicine. A drink of the potion of gratitude is the antidote to any negative emotion. And, unlike most medicines, increasing the dosage only increases the benefit. The benefit and the joy.

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