I’ve been thinking about Gratitude lately. The topic seems to be popping up on blogs, and in social media and magazines. So what’s the big deal about gratitude and why are people talking about it?
In his essay, “Why Gratitude is Good”, Robert Emmos, a scientific expert on gratitude writes, “First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.” So far so good. Who can argue that it’s beneficial to recognize the good in the world and in our lives.
In our plugged-in society we are constantly bombarded with stories of negativity, crime, terrorism, abuse and natural disasters. Sometimes it feels like the negativity washes over me, sticks to my body, invades my mind, drains my energy and joy and affects my sight. It’s very much like trying to look across a cigarette-smoke filled room. The colors are muted, eyes burn, images are distorted. The stench is foul and clings to hair and skin and clothing.
Practicing gratitude is a way of opening the doors and windows, letting light and fresh air replace the haze and putrid smoke. It’s like inhaling deeply of fresh, mountain, morning air. It allows us to see things that we couldn’t see through the haze.
We live in a broken world. Bad things happen, children are hurt, disasters strike, we get sick, bosses are mean. You know this. You walk in those trenches every day. And it’s easy to begin to believe those things are the whole picture. They aren’t!
The world is also filled with beauty, kindness, goodness and love. Sometimes we just can’t recognize those things through the smokey-haze.
Gratitude brings those things back into focus and in doing so it provides us with a whole host of benefits … It reduces depression, increases happiness and optimism. It has documented health benefits, affects neural activity (read more here), reduces stress, increases the length and quality of sleep, reduces pain, and boosts performance. Gratitude helps us see goodness.
Mr Emmos goes on to say, “The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”
This, my friends, is the part that really spoke to me. For all it’s benefits, practicing gratitude is perhaps most beneficial in the way it affects our relationships. At the end of the day, it’s not the size of our house, the balance in our bank account, or the cars we drive that matter most. It’s the people who walk beside us, who share our lives, those with whom we laugh and cry and work and play.
Gratitude draws the connection between the goodness in our lives, those people who contribute to it and the God who is the source of it. It reminds us to be humble. It fosters kindness. It strengthens our connection with others. It helps us see the beauty around us, in nature, in situations, in people.
I wish I could say I’ve mastered this discipline, that practicing gratitude is natural and effortless. I haven’t and it’s not. It’s too easy to complain, to see the negative, to wallow in self-pity. But gratitude is worth pursing. And like most things, the more we do something, the easier it gets, until hopefully, it eventually weaves through the fibers of our being and becomes a part of our character. That’s who I want to be. So I will take the steps necessary to get there. I will put in the time and effort. I will practice the disciplines because I want to reap the rewards. Would you walk this road with me, this road into greater gratitude?
Grateful for you!
Three ways to practice gratitude:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Before bed each night, take 5 minutes to write down 1-3 things for which you are grateful. Do this for at least three months. This is not a new concept nor a difficult one, but it does take commitment and discipline.
- Write a letter to someone who has influenced you and for whom you are grateful. This will foster gratitude in you and bless them.
- High/low game. When the kids were young we had a tradition at our dinner table. (I think we saw this in a movie, but to be honest, I can’t remember for sure.) As we ate, we would go around the table and each person would share their “high and low” for the day. They would tell something that was hard or disappointing and then they would share the high point. This is something for which to be grateful.