written 22 November 2020
published 29 November 2020
Thanksgiving is a national day of gratitude, but a regular practice of gratitude can be personally beneficial on many levels.
According to psychologist Robert Emmons, "research has shown that people who practice gratitude have a stronger immune system, are less bothered by aches and pains, have lower blood pressure, take better care of their health, sleep longer, and feel more refreshed upon waking. Psychological, they report higher levels of positive emotions, are more alert, experience more joy and pleasure, and are more optimistic and happy. Social they are more helpful, generous, compassionate, forgiving, outgoing, and feel less lonely and isolated."
"Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret: emotions that can destroy our happiness. Gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression. Grateful people are more stress resistant, and have a higher sense of self-worth."
"Just because gratitude is good doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Practicing gratitude can be at odds with some deeply ingrained psychological tendencies. One is the “self-serving bias.” That means that when good things happen to us, we say it’s because of something we did, but when bad things happen, we blame other people or circumstances. Gratitude goes against the self-serving bias because when we’re grateful, we give credit for our success. Gratitude also goes against our need to feel in control of our environment. Sometimes with gratitude you just have to accept life as it is and be grateful for what you have."
"Finally, gratitude contradicts the “just-world” hypothesis, which says that we get what we deserve in life. With gratitude comes the realization that we get more than we deserve. This goes against a message we get a lot in our contemporary culture: that we’re entitled to the good fortune that comes our way. If you feel entitled to everything, it makes it a lot harder to be grateful for anything."
(Excerpted from "Why Gratitude Is Good", Greater Good Magazine, 16 Nov 20).
The relationship between the individual and the collective involves many types of exchanges, like inhaling and exhaling. More than a polite response to something received, gratitude is a facet of love, the other end of a sustaining emotional dynamic. Gratitude is a heartfelt expression coming from recognition of immanent connection to a larger context. Unlike future oriented prayer, gratitude is recognition of something that is already happening, fundamentally rooted in the "now".
This is a perspective as much as anything else: a matter of noticing things that are already going well. These can be as minor as finding a parking spot when needed, or as fundamental as the ability to breath, which must happen every few seconds. Each oxygen molecule has been produced within the last 6 months by plants or algae, and none of us pays for it or earns it. It is a gift from life which can be acknowledged by gratitude.
Even "problems" can be viewed differently. I have bad eyes, needing glasses since elementary school, and am now developing cataracts and glaucoma. Rather than focusing on the limitations, I am very grateful that I can still see and read.
Gratitude can be an active practice. I love rain, and appreciate living where water still falls out of the sky. As the rains began again this year, I bundled up and sat on our covered deck to experience the rain, giving thanks to the water and blessing it on its passage downstream. Water researcher Masaru Emoto demonstrated that intentions shape the way water crystals form, and gratitude is one of the most powerful positive intentions. Gratitude is found in every spiritual tradition on the planet, a measure of its fundamental power.
Problems are easy to see, and they can be serious and existential, without a doubt. But if I start by focusing on difficulties, the list is endless and I never get around to noticing what is already working. By starting with gratitude, if I run out of things to list, I have built up an account to balance against the problems. These days, when so much of the world seems to be in chaos, with division and hatred rampant, a regular practice of gratitude is an act of personal empowerment. In every moment, we have the opportunity to choose gratitude. We are unstoppable.