The practice of gratitude

You know when I’m most at peace?

When I’m feeling thankful.

And it turns out it’s not just a fluke: a new study shows that “the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages.”

And sure, some may say that when life is good, we’re automatically disposed to be more gracious — but it turns out, an attitude of gratitude in itself may actually make life better.

The recent Huffington Post article, “The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier,” also explores the link between good thoughts and goodwill:

Participants in the gratitude group also reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that the gratitude exercise increased their goodwill towards others, or more technically, their “pro-social” motivation.

Don’t you love it when science validates common sense?

Positive thinking begets a positive outlook — which begets positive actions. And it’s all because of the choice to see the glass half full.

But it’s easy to be ungrateful, isn’t it?

We can have almost anything we want in the material sense — as quickly as we want it. We have grocery stores full of food, yet rush through mealtime prayers. We have multiple cars per family, yet cuss at other drivers who dare cut us off. We have jobs that pay the bills, yet complain that we don’t make enough money. We have spouses who love and honor us, yet we build resentment over their idiosyncrasies. We have kids, yet complain that they’re a “hand full.” We get invitations, yet complain we have too many obligations. We. We. We.

But sometimes — we are filled with the sweet gift of gratitude. We look around and see a sunny haze upon the earth. Our food tastes better and we eat it more slowly. We drive the speed limit and wave to people passing by on country roads. We thank our bosses and appreciate our coworkers. We hold our spouse’s hand and give a surprise compliment. We watch our kids play and take in every moment. We get an invitation in the mail and feel excited to open the envelope.

It’s the same day, just a different emotion. The same people, just a different perspective. And suddenly, life seems full of purpose — because it’s not about us.

The Huffington Post article and its fancy neuroscience is fascinating, but it only confirms what philosophers and dreamers and positive thinkers have known for ages.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  ~G.K. Chesterton

I googled “gratitude studies” after reading the HP article and it turns out that there’s a ton of commentary out there:

The Lab at UC Davis profoundly states:

Scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude. Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness, and well-being.

Another study gathered from the book “Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier” commented:

Whether you win the lottery or are paralyzed from the neck down, after about three to six months you’ll have returned to your usual level of happiness. While these findings are deeply counter-intuitive, they also raise a serious problem for those wanting to increase levels of happiness permanently. A possible answer comes from recent research in the psychology of gratitude. Yes, you read that correctly – being thankful might be the key to raising your happiness ‘set-point’.

I found that funny: your happiness “set-point.” It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? And more importantly, our happiness is something that we can control – not by how much money we make or how successful we are – but by how much gratitude we have.

Last night I read a relevant blog post by Betty Beguiles titled, “A Heart of Gratitude: A 14 Day Challenge.” In the post, Betty outlines two weeks of daily acts of kindness for your significant other. Hers is just one example of how you can “practice” gratitude — but there are many ways to practice the virtue every day.

See the best in people. Pray. Recognize negative thought patterns and flip them on their head. Stop gossiping. Share the silver lining. Take the long way home. Drive the speed limit.

And most importantly, say thank you.

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

One Comment

  1. I loved this paragraph: “We have grocery stores full of food, yet rush through mealtime prayers. We have multiple cars per family, yet cuss at other drivers who dare cut us off.” So true. A while ago my husband and I started saying a simple line that we repeat to each other whenever we start going down the roads of ingratitude that you describe – “We have everything we need.” And the funny thing is, no matter what we’re talking about, we realize that we do have everything that we truly Need: each other, our kids, our faith, our families. Most of the rest is just details. But we waste a lot of time complaining about the details.

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