A powerful benefits of gratitude

During Christmas days I look back and reflect on the last year. I try to recall all the good things that happened and what interesting and kind people I met along the way. In the course of that, I began thinking about one of the most wonderful feelings in the world, gratitude.

It is wonderful to receive good things in life, but also to thank the Universe and people from your heart. Look for warm and sincere words for those that have been kind or generous to you, but do not stop there. Make time to actually say them directly; either in person, on the phone, or by video chat. E-mail can be good, but it is no substitute for the sound of your voice. This intimacy is a tremendous force that helps restore the delicate balance between give and take. Expressing gratitude feeds both souls; the giver and the receiver.

I recently learned about an interesting experiment that measured the power of gratitude.

First, a group of people was tested for how happy they felt in a moment. Then, each person was asked to write words of gratitude to someone special: a mother, a father, a friend, a colleague, a husband, a child. Then, they were given a mobile phone and asked to call that person and say to them exactly what they wrote. The reactions of the people that received a call were dramatic. During these unforeseen conversations some people cried, some laughed; a few were embarrassed, but obviously very pleased.

After the conversations were over, the callers were tested again for their level of happiness. Those people who were able to express their gratitude in person had an increase in happiness of 20 percent. Those that were unable to reach their friends or family and left a message, no matter how heartfelt or detailed, only saw an increase of 4 percent in their level of happiness! Expressing their appreciation in a conversation not only delighted the other person, but it made the caller much happier.

For the recent birthday party of my dear friend Chahida Ousseimi, I wrote my words of appreciation and gratitude. During our lunch, I made a toast. I told her how much I value her in my life, that I clearly see her beautiful spirit, and I treasure our meaningful conversations. I recalled the long walks we shared together, deep in discussion about meditation, art, rare books, and fascinating cultures.

I thanked her for supporting me in all my efforts to achieve success, and for helping me connect with my true self. She was taken by surprise and very touched. As I saw her tears of happiness, my own heart soared, and I knew in that instant it is true that to give is to receive.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom,” wrote French novelist Marcel Proust.

Stop negative thinking

What is it that I love about the West End of Bermuda? Perhaps it is the feeling that it is a bit closer to the old Bermuda that I see in paintings and faded photographs. When I ride my bicycle from Mangrove Bay in the village of Somerset and over Watford Bridge, I feel like I am traveling through time, back to an era when horses were commonplace and ferry boats were the practical way to visit Hamilton. There is a delightful stretch on Ireland Island, which faces the Great Sound. It is quite there with few cars and an empty coastline.

My husband and I walked our bikes up the hill into the cool shade under the leafy canopy until we came to the ruins of an old hospital. It was long abandoned and overgrown with plants and trees sprouting from doorways and empty hallways littered with shattered masonry.

I thought of the secrets here, the suffering and longing of sailors far from home, stricken with yellow fever, and cloistered from the world of their friends and shipmates.

A more recent arrival, an abandoned car, was nothing but a frail and rusty shell, festooned on every inch with living greenery. We quickly bounced downhill on our bikes past the ruined parsonage. I thought of this once well-tended and beloved retreat and I pedaled harder, struggling to re-enter my own time, in a hurry to leave this reminder that nothing lasts, that the earth reclaims its own.

I pedaled towards Dockyard. As I passed the glittering sea and the weathered tombstones of the Royal Naval Cemetery, my thoughts drifted to my own mortality. My annual checkup was due to a new and spotless clinic. A wave of fear began to rise within me and anxiety tingled throughout my body. I shook my head and was struck by the contradiction between the beauty surrounding me and the discomfort inside.

I realized I was close to a full-on panic attack. I pulled over on my bike, breathing hard, and looked up. Directly in front of me, I saw a sign that stunned me with its directness and strength.

Against the background of the radiantly blue ocean, on a bright red square, four white reflective letters shone: STOP.

It was the exact word that I had to see and I had to say it to myself at that moment. It was not just a traffic sign; it was a message sent directly to me. I stood and looked at it for a long time.

This sign reminded me of vital things: “Do not think about the bad. You know that this will not help you, you will only feel worse. You have the power to switch your negative thoughts to positive ones. This is the only thing you can change right now. It is a beautiful day. Enjoy and appreciate this moment.”

We all need to be able to tell ourselves STOP. Not just to change our mood.STOP yourself when you want to say something harsh, rude, offensive, or unfair. STOP when you start to say those undeserved phrases that offend or deeply injure someone, especially those closest to you. Because we know these loved ones so well, we also know their weaknesses and how to hurt them the most.

STOP saying words that you will regret long afterward. Words are like arrows. Once they leave the bow, they cannot be recalled. They can never be taken back and it is sometimes impossible to forgive and forget them.

STOP before sending an angry e-mail or message. Save it and read it in a few hours or, even better, sleep on it. In the morning, ask yourself: “Do I really want to send this?” Most of the time the answer will be “no”. When emotions cool, our words often reveal the worst in us.

I keep the mental image of this STOP sign as a reminder that it is entirely up to me to draw the line between my negative and positive thoughts. A moment of reflection can be the most important thing you do all day.