gratitude-The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness
Are we practicing gratitude every day?
Gratitude or "being thankful" has been called a virtue, an attitude or even an emotion. Philosophers and poets have espoused it, saying, "Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously". (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Those in faith circles will often speak of being thankful and grateful, too. It is considered valued and important. Being thankful is considered so valuable that holidays have been created around it. We in America have our Thanksgiving, but did you know that Israel celebrates with Sukkot, (Feast of Booths or Tabernacles) one of three biblically based pilgrimage holidays? It is an agricultural festival that originally was considered a thanksgiving for the fruit harvest.
As we enter into the holiday season, let's not only practice it now, but begin to practice it after.
What are the benefits?
Many people say, "Think positive", "Have an attitude of gratitude", "Be thankful". etc. etc. And, those sayings are great words of wisdom. Often, though, if we are struggling with something in our lives, conjuring up an attitude or feeling of thankfulness is often very challenging. Practicing saying the words can often lead to an emotional response, but it is imperative to NOT allow the issues being faced to be stuffed inside and covered up. Those issues need to be addressed so a move forward can happen. Growth can happen. If we move forward without healing, then we will continue to be stunted.
A professor at UC-Davis, Robert Emmons, is considered the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude. He says gratitude has a significant positive impact on relationships. (taken from the Epoch Times)
1. Those with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathetic, and they are rated as more generous and more helpful
2. Grateful people place less importance on material things
3. Grateful people tend not to judge the success of others based on what they have accumulated
4. Grateful people are less envious of others and share more readily
The practice of gratitude can also lead to a pay it forward effect. The more grateful we feel, the more likely we are to practice helpful behaviors. Which in turn, will lead to a trickle down effect. We help others, and they are then more likely to help others, etc. etc.
Entitlement, which is a growing plague whereby people feel life or others owe them something is often manifested in the form of aggression, violence, theft, hostility, poor work performance, envy, greed, resentment, lack of accountability and blaming others. Wow. That is a long list. But, this entitlement attitude can be thwarted by practicing gratitude according to the professor. To me, that is fantastic news.
So, how do we put this into practice?
According to Emmons, we can cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It is not true that you either have it or you don't. And, to discover your level of gratitude, you can take an online test to see where you rank. It is with Greater Good Magazine, and you can take the quiz here-HOW GRATEFUL ARE YOU?
I took the quiz and was happily surprised by the results!
To help cultivate gratitude, here is a simple exercise: Think about one of the unhappiest events you have experienced. How often do you think about that? How does it compare to your present day? If your life is better, try to realize that and appreciate THAT more. Simple things like keeping a grateful journal, writing thank you notes to others, or keeping a gratitude jar are all ways to help.
When my children were younger, we had a thankful jar. I had each child (4 of them) write on small pieces of paper what they were thankful for at the beginning of every month (they were many) and put them in the jar. At the end of the month, we took turns taking out the pieces of paper and read the responses. It helped cultivate gratitude.
Just like a flower seed that is being watered and cared for, our attitude of gratitude will grow every day if we take steps to nourish it. It will not happen overnight, but if we cultivate that seed, we will see a beautiful bloom in our hearts that will overflow to others.
We also need a few more things: humility, which is a right assessment of who we are and the skills we have, and self reflection, which requires recognizing that there is a greater power and person other than ourselves.
As 2020 comes to a close shortly, I look back at some of the horrific things that have happened in the country, and several very hurtful things that happened to myself personally, and am heartbroken. In the middle of all of it, I could not "say positive things" to help me develop an attitude of gratitude, or even take the steps to start practicing gratitude. It was so challenging.
But now, 9 months later, I feel as if there is a new birth. A new life that has come forth after healing and forward growth. This quote became my friend during the long duration of personal attacks and attacks on humans in the country, and I am so glad it did.
"Don't forget-metamorphis starts with a death. You will be beautifully strong, too, but first you will be broken."
I was broken. There were many, many people who were broken. But, I, and I hope the others, will be coming back stronger than ever, practicing gratitude every day.