Santosha (contentment) and the practice of gratitude for health

Do you worry too much? Does a racing mind keep you awake at night? What if you could master the mind to cultivate contentment (santosha), sleep better, and concentrate more fully?

Ayurveda accepts this treatment procedure based on Yoga ideology. To master the mind, your Ayurvedic practitioner identifies areas in your life where restraint from excess sensory stimulation (be it taste, touch, hearing, sight, or smell) will benefit your health.

When we moderate unwholesome sensory inputs such as loud music, rich foods, and clutter, limit the amount of news we can appropriately respond to (30 minutes of news a day is a good rule of thumb), dim the lights as nighttime arrives, and create a serene, peaceful environment in the home, we are supporting the health of the mind. And a healthy mind takes you a long way towards accomplishing your health goals.

But what if I can’t “control my mind”?

You’re not alone if you feel out-of-control. A lifetime of experiences may have lead you to believe that you are not in control. You may see yourself as a pessimist or label yourself a worrier. And you may believe you cannot change.

Luckily, we start where you are. And the first practice is the simplest (and most profound).

A simple “gratitude practice” consists of naming three to five things daily that you are thankful for. You can choose to do this in the morning when you wake up, around the table at dinner with your family, or as part of your bedtime routine. Simply choose three to five things that you are grateful for – these things can be anything at all! When you are in a state of depression, are suffering from PTSD, or anxiety, it may be as simple as choosing to be thankful for the sky, the sun, and your bed. Don’t limit yourself, and be aware of the voice in your head that tries to label things as “stupid.” With gratitude, anything goes and nothing is too small or insignificant to name. With daily practice you will find that your ability to name what you are grateful for changes; it may deepen over time.

Why practice gratitude?

Researchers at UC Berkeley have undertaken large scale studies on the practice of gratitude. They report that gratitude benefits anyone, even those in the midst of serious adversity such as elderly people confronting death, women with breast cancer, and people coping with a chronic muscular disease.

Here are some of the top research-based reasons for practicing gratitude:

  • Gratitude brings us happiness: Through research by Robert Emmons, happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, and many other scientists, practicing gratitude has proven to be one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness and life satisfaction; it also boosts feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions.
  • On the flip side, gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression.
  • Gratitude is good for our bodies: Studies by Emmons and his colleague Michael McCullough suggest gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and makes us less bothered by aches and pains. It also encourages us to exercise more and take better care of our health.
  • Grateful people sleep better: They get more hours of sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more refreshed upon awakening. If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.
  • Gratitude makes us more resilient: It has been found to help people recover from traumatic events, including Vietnam War veterans with PTSD.
  • Gratitude strengthens relationships: It makes us feel closer and more committed to friends and romantic partners. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship. Gratitude may also encourage a more equitable division of labor between partners.
  • Gratitude promotes forgiveness—even between ex-spouses after a divorce.
  • Gratitude makes us “pay it forward”: Grateful people are more helpful, altruistic, and compassionate.
  • Gratitude is good for kids: When 10-19 year olds practice gratitude, they report greater life satisfaction and more positive emotion, and they feel more connected to their community.
  • Gratitude is good for schools: Studies suggest it makes students feel better about their school; it also makes teachers feel more satisfied and accomplished, and less emotionally exhausted, possibly reducing teacher burnout.

    (Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley)

Read more about the practice of gratitude by the researchers at UC Berkeley here.

Cultivating santosha or contentment

A simple daily practice of gratitude gives you full control of a racing, worrying, or angry mind – resulting in improved mental function and sense of safety, security, and wellness. UC Berkeley researchers identify the top benefit of practicing gratitude as happiness. Imagine for a minute you, in a state of happiness. When you are happy, you don’t want anything else, you don’t want to be anywhere else, or with anyone else. You are content and fully present.

Yoga calls this the niyama or cultivation of contentment (santosha). And its scientifically proven to benefit your health.

master the mind to achieve santosha