Thanksgiving and Gratitude

“If the only prayer you ever say in your lifetime is ‘Thank you,’ that’s enough.
Meister Eckhart, 13th century German theologian, philosopher and mystic

“Gratitude is heaven itself”
William Blake, 18th Century English poet, painter, and printmaker

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to celebrate gratitude. To continue or to begin a conscious practice of noticing and being grateful for all of life’s gifts.

Training yourself to notice and be thankful for both large and small gifts – demonstrating gratitude for all that comes your way, whether good or bad –  can be life-changing and it’s never too late to start.

Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, one of the world’s leading scientific researchers studying gratitude often in collaboration with the Greater Good Science Center, contends that gratitude is an affirmation of goodness.

“When we express gratitude, we affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.  We acknowledge that other people – even higher powers gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve …. It requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”

Emmons refutes the false claims that gratitude leads to complacency, is a naïve form of positive thinking, makes us too self-effacing, isn’t possible or appropriate in the midst of adversity or suffering, and that you have to be religious to be grateful.

Instead, Emmons’ scientific studies found those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about the upcoming weeks compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.

An experiment with young adults using a daily practice of self-guided exercises found higher levels of positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy with no difference in levels of unpleasant emotions.  Also, they were more likely to have helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support.

In a 21-day gratitude intervention with adults who suffered from neuromuscular disease, Emmons found greater high energy positive moods, feeling connected to others as well as being more optimistic and sleeping better.

Even children who practiced grateful thinking were found to have more positive attitudes toward school and their families.

Joel Wong and Joshua Brown with the Greater Good Science Center found that benefits of a gratitude practice lasted over time with better mental health four weeks after the experiment ended and even larger results 12 weeks later.  In another study, they found that people who were generally more grateful donated more money to their specific causes.

Gratitude has long been an important topic in religion and philosophy. Recently Mindful magazine pointed out that “Gratitude isn’t merely about reward.  It involves morality, connecting with others, and taking their perspective.”

“Expressing Gratitude Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts,” according to writer Alan Cohen.

On a lighter note, recently I read Rabbi Marc Gellman’s suggestion: “When you come right down to it, there are only four basic prayers.  Gimme!  Thanks!  Oops! and Wow!”

  • “Wow” are prayers of praise and wonder at the creation.
  • “Oops” is asking for forgiveness.
  • “Gimme” is a request or a petition.
  • “Thanks” is expressing gratitude.

One way to practice gratitude, is to ask a loved one or friend questions to spur thoughts of gratitude such as, “What was the best part of your day today? Or “What is one thing that made you feel really happy?” Questions can increase your own awareness and promote positive connections in your relationships.

Keeping a gratitude journal is my favorite gratitude practice since I began in 2014.  I answer three questions with short, specific examples to the questions: What inspired me today? What made me happy today? and What gave me peace today? I don’t write every day, but often enough to have filled almost two books. I rarely repeat and have been surprised to discover new answers to these questions. Rereading what I’ve written is inspiration enough to keep my practice going.

 

Susan Hendricks offers personal writing groups and workshops approved by the SC Social Work Examiners Board for CEU credits and is an online instructor for The Writing Institute & Center for Journal Therapy.  Read all of her previous Columbia Star Newspaper articles at: www.susanhendricks.com/columbia-star-news.

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