Gratitude – Supporting connection through the art of being thankful

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”  Henry Miller

To notice the intricate beauty in the world around us and to be grateful for such beauty is a powerful tool. It’s a skill that requires time, conscious thought, repetition and modelling. It can be a powerful contributor to a more positive outlook on life and a gateway to deeper connection to the natural world.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude, or the art of giving thanks, is a tradition that spans back through time and culture. It’s a simple process of noticing and being thankful for the things around us – people, trees, animals, objects, experiences, feelings and emotions – anything really. Gratitude is a process, a way of being mindful and opening up awareness to our surroundings, to past, present and future events, and to our experiences whether they be physical, emotional or cognitive.

In a nutshell, gratitude can simply mean, ‘the importance of seeing the positives.’ Consciously bringing a practice of gratitude to our lives supports us to balance the negatives we are fed through various areas of our lives and develop a ‘re-patterning’ of our mind to notice joy and connection.

A quick challenge to demonstrate:
Take a moment to notice all the blue things in your current surroundings.
Now find things that are triangular.
Do they stick out?
The more you see, the easier it is to see more.

When we bring conscious thought to something specific, we notice it more. This is similar to the old conundrum of getting every red light when we are running late. The more we focus on a particular thought or idea, the more prevalent it appears to be in our consciousness. Following this theory, it makes sense that the more we bring conscious thought and practice to the art of gratitude, the more things we will have to be grateful for, and the more we will notice.

“… gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it; we’re less likely to take it for granted.” Robert Emmons

A process of deep nature connection

“Taking a moment to see the grace in elements of the natural world – frogs, rain, berries or the sun – deepens our relationship with each one. Thanksgiving reinforces the interdependence of all living things and their ground of being and reminds us of our kinship with nature.”  Jon Young

Gratitude, or the art of Thanksgiving is an important element when it comes to connecting with the natural world because it builds awareness. As we delve deeper into the practice of giving gratitude, we become more aware of the intricacies of the natural world and our surroundings. As an example, the more we share gratitude for the rain and take note of its existence and impact on our lives the more we delve deeper and start to become aware of and grateful for it. We become aware of the smell of the first rain (known as petrichor), for the microbes in the soil that are awoken by rain, for the dew drops in the morning light and so on.

David Sobel is quoted as saying that we need to, ‘give children a chance to love the earth before we ask them to save it.’ It’s possible that the art of gratitude is a simple daily routine we can support children to develop in order to forge deep connections with the natural world and build those bonds that truly help them love the earth.

Helping children give gratitude

It’s important to support children in the process of sharing gratitude with encouragement and modelling, children quickly get into a process of sharing gratitude when they are offered a space to practice. Children who experience the giving of gratitude on a regular basis are often more comfortable at sharing gratitude and, more specifically, find it easier to identify a range of things they are grateful for. Their vocabulary for giving gratitude gradually expands.

To begin with, giving gratitude can be difficult but when we really open up to the art of giving gratitude and support its development, we see more complex and heartfelt messages of thanks.

“The social benefits are especially significant here because, after all, gratitude is a social emotion. I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”  Robert Emmons

The effects of gratitude on the brain

There’s a whole sea of scientific research into the effects of gratitude on the brain, the body, on moods, productivity, resilience and so much more. We came across a paper written by Clinical Psychologist, Madhullena Roy Chowdhury, which speaks to a raft of the underlying benefits to developing regular practices surrounding gratitude and giving thanks. This one quote really stood out to us.

“When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside. By consciously practicing gratitude everyday, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.”  Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, BA

How can you take time today to bring gratitude into your daily routine and start to open your awareness of the beauty in this world? Small steps in reframing your perspective can contribute to a shift in your outlook, mental health and happiness and nature is the key!

Written by Educated by Nature for Spring into Parks, a WA Parks Foundation initiative supported by Chevron.