Here in the United States, we set aside the fourth Thursday of each November to give thanks. The older I get, the more it feels as though one day simply isn’t enough.
Another word for thanks, of course, is gratitude. And you may have heard the expression, “have an attitude of gratitude.” Quite simply, it means that if we approach each day with thanks, if we’re grateful for what we have, then our spirits are higher, and our days are sunnier.
I get this. As an inherently optimistic person (I’ve been called by many, dare I say it, a Pollyanna), it does make my day go better if I can remember to carry an attitude of gratitude.
Some days, weeks, months, or even years are, however, just plain crappy. I’ve got some friends who really feel that we must never acknowledge the crap but only focus on the positive. Think Law of Attraction here; if we contemplate the crap, we attract more of it to our lives.
Personally, I think it’s healthy to acknowledge the crap. Life is a balance. We can’t know light without dark, and we can’t be grateful for the best if we haven’t also known the worst. Nonetheless, even if you have to “fake it til you make it” (a lesson from one of several therapists over the years), I’d say that Monty Python had it right: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
And it turns out that this attitude isn’t just new age mumbo-jumbo feel-good hootchie-cootchie.
Researchers, like Dr. Robert Emmons from the University of California at Davis, have shown that there hare measurable health benefits to practicing gratitude on a daily basis. Gratitude reduces stress. It provides perspective. It actually makes us happy.
This comes from the Harvard Mental Health Letter on Dr. Emmons’ research:
One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
In other words, an attitude of gratitude can help us through even the crappiest of times.
One of the tips Dr. Emmons recommends for expressing gratitude is to make a list. So I made one. And my first draft had a gazillion things on it–people I know, places I’ve been, opportunities I’ve taken, experiences I’ve had. Putting all of these on one list, however, made me feel as though they were all of equal weight and importance–and they’re not.
In truth, my closest personal relationships are the things for which I am most thankful. Sure, I’m grateful that Facebook is there to help me stay in contact with others, but the “others” are more important than the technology.
It’s relationships that matter most to me, and I suspect that will always be true. This year, as with so many years…
- I am deeply grateful for my husband Charles, a most excellent man. Wry, charming, sexy, kind, unspeakably gifted, and big, big-brained. He quite accurately describes himself as an “intellectual sensualist,” by which he means, “I like the way thoughts feel.” Seriously, this is how he meets the world, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
- I am deeply grateful for our dog Freida, a most effervescent mop of a dog. She is happiest when the three of us — the pack — are together. Her love is enthusiastic. Her kisses are energetic. Her sleep is purposeful. Her curiosity is childlike.
- I am deeply grateful for my best friends, almost all women now. They are giving and generous of their precious time and energy, to me and many others. They meet the world without judgment, accepting it exactly as it is. They know when guidance is needed, and they know when to back the hell off. They know fear, but they are stunningly brave. Their attention to the here and now is concrete and purposeful, but their optimism for every tomorrow is boundless. They are beautiful, radiant, and whole.
- I am deeply grateful for my wise mother and sister (both counted among my best friends). I am grateful for the years we had with my inspired and inspiring father, who passed away ten years ago. They are all the rocks upon which my church was built.
If all other things fell away — if Facebook disappeared, and HBO went bankrupt, and I lost my job, and the world went to shit — all of these people (and dog) would still be around to love me, quite unconditionally.
Mind you, I’m pretty thankful that social media is here, that I can watch HBO, and I’ve got a great job. But my close relationships? I can’t think of greater wealth.
I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving, surrounded by the people you love. May you eat yourselves full and laugh yourselves silly. And may you enjoy gratitude every day of the year as well.
Want to read more about gratitude and its benefits?
- Dr. Robert Emmons’ 10 Ways to Become More Grateful
- New York Times, November 2011, A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day