Grateful people are said to be happier and healthier and live longer. pme life coach Matthias Konning explains in an interview how we can learn gratitude and what we can be grateful for.
What does gratitude mean?
Matthias Konning: We humans are part of a large system of receiving and passing on. Already I own my life not out of myself, but because my parents loved each other. So I owe my life to someone else. Basically, I cannot live for myself alone, but am always dependent on someone else giving me something: Nature gives me food, the employer gives me money, another person gives me his love.
Saying thank you is something like signing a contract: Yes, I confirm that! Saying thank you is an act of consciousness. I realize: Ah, I’m getting something, and I’m getting richer because of it. I get a little more into abundance.
But that also sounds like we are dependent on other people?
Exactly, that’s what we are basically. And the gratitude is kind of like consenting to it: It’s okay for me. Also, when I am grateful, it helps me not to see life as a lack: Do I always see the half empty glass or the half full glass?
If I’m always thinking about loss, then I’m in a bad way. The Corona pandemic has been and continues to be a major challenge for us humans. I feel stress, and my body releases hormones like adrenaline or cortisol that make me tired and exhausted. But when I remind myself in a continuous way that I am in abundance, I strengthen myself in a positive sense. This means that my body produces endorphins and dopamine. I feel good, I am well, and I am richly blessed.
So the feeling of gratitude we have toward others strengthens ourselves? Is that the reason why gratitude diaries etc. are so important?. are booming at the moment?
Yes, however, I see this critically: If I just write down a list every day of as many things as possible for which I am grateful, that is nonsense. I need to feel this gratitude too. Only when I am really filled with gratitude and something makes me happy, I get into a real, positive flow state.
Can I practice the real feeling of gratitude?
For me, it has something to do with how I connect to the idea of gratitude – mentally, emotionally and physically. How do I perceive all the wealth that surrounds me and that I possess? What do I feel when I think about it? For me, that means getting in touch – and that’s something you can practice. A metaphor: If I have a bad line, due to lack of Internet, nothing reaches me and nothing reaches the other person. But I can do exercises that activate my conduction network. Then it becomes fuller and noticeable, and that is very satisfying. So I can strengthen this net.
What exercises can be? Just writing it down doesn’t help, you say.
Writing is the amplification of thinking. But if you just write without feeling anything, it doesn’t work. So you have to make a thought tangible. It’s only when it slips into your heart, so to speak, and is felt all the way into your body, that your gratitude does something, and your body releases hormones.
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Haven’t we long since forgotten this kind of sentient thinking in our information and performance society?
Yes, we have developed a tendency to take everything for granted. Of course I get my wages, of course I buy my vegetables and bread, of course I have enough money in my account to buy what I need. I no longer have an awareness that this is anything but a given, but that it is a great gift that I have at my disposal every day.
When you receive something as a gift, you have such a feeling that it becomes big in you. A feeling of love for example. When you write down something you’re grateful for, it’s about getting a little emotionally invested in it. There is an old Jewish prayer that I sometimes practice. It translates as "That which is enough to make me happy". The prayer comes from the time when Israel was freed from Egyptian captivity. Remembering that I was once a slave and now I’m free causes a feeling of "Wow, I’m so glad I’m free!!".
How does prayer go, and how can it be applied to the present time?
The prayer goes something like this: Just that you saw our need would have been enough. But you didn’t just see our hardship. You also gave us bread. Just that you gave us bread would have been enough. You not only gave us bread, but also led us through the desert. Just that you led us through the desert would have been enough. But you have not only led us through the desert, you have strengthened us through all these years. And so on ..
And if you translate this into our time, the prayer could be like this: The mere fact that I had a bed tonight would have been enough. Not only did I have a bed, which is great, but I had a hot shower as well. That early morning hot shower alone would have been enough. But not only did I have the shower, I had an incredibly delicious roll. Just this incredibly delicious roll would have been enough. Not only did I have a delicious roll and an incredibly fantastic coffee.
When you tell yourself that, you get into feeling and sensing. These many little things that you enjoy as a matter of course every day, without awareness, without thinking about them, suddenly take on a much greater weight and make the half-full glass really precious.
I wonder if I’m allowed to focus on the small pleasures in everyday life while the world out there is getting into bigger and bigger crises: Corona, Afghanistan, climate change.
The point is to endure these ambivalences. Life is not either black or white. What is right? Abundance or lack? Allowing both to exist at the same time, and giving yourself permission to be grateful while also having compassion, is not a contradiction. Part of me is sorry for what is not there, another part sees the abundance and is grateful for it. That’s how this world is. This is a form of acceptance.
What are you grateful for yourself?
Oh, I am grateful for so many things: For example, I have spent 45 years of my life with intense forms of asthma and neurodermatitis. Life has been a torment for me. I am so glad and grateful that this is a chapter of the past, that today my skin is able to breathe and reactivate on its own. I am thankful that I have my wife by my side, which I take for granted. And I’m grateful that when I quit the church, I found a place at pme Familienservice where I could dock professionally and contribute my skills.
Matthias Konning is a systemic supervisor and family therapist (DGSF), trained conflict resolution assistant and life situation coaching consultant at pme Familienservice.
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