If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. ~ Meister Eckhart, German theologian.
Amidst all the recent happiness studies, often ignored, is the act of gratitude. How often we say thank you may have a direct impact on our health, researchers say. For example, people who consistently express a sense of gratitude appear to have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure. They are more positive and have fewer problems with loneliness and depression.
Based on these encouraging findings about gratitude, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, in collaboration with the University of California offered millions of research dollars in 2011 for a three year project.. called “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude.” The John Templeton Foundation supplied the funding.
What studies show is that the usual once a year “I am thankful for my family and friends” tradition is not the gratitude that directly benefits our health. It’s the daily gratitude – that sometimes requires a change of attitude, and consistently embraces the good that is around us – that may be health giving. Mary Baker Eddy who researched this link between health and thought in the 19th century observed that “Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech.”
So how do we act on our gratitude in ways that are meaningful to others? One example I saw recently was a young woman taking her grandmother shopping, She remarked to me, “I just remember all the support she has given me this year. It seemed such a small thing that I could do for her.”
Oprah Winfrey consistently encourages her TV and magazine followers to be grateful and extols the importance of keeping a gratitude journal. While that’s a great idea, there is a step we can take prior to rushing out to buy yet another journal. Exploring more deeply what we as individuals, families or communities mean by gratitude could be a start.
Perhaps at the Thanksgiving table this year some of these ideas could be discussed. It would be interesting to see whether everyone is on the same page when it comes to what we mean by gratitude and how we practice it.
1. What does it mean to give thanks?
2. When and how often should we engage in being grateful?
3. How many times in one day do we recognize the contributions someone in our lives has made – colleagues, family members, friends or neighbours?
4. What kind of things do we feel grateful for?
5. How often do we write thank you notes or letters? Or encourage our kids to?
6. Is there a place for any kind of gratitude in the tragedies of life?
7. How do we think gratitude can help us?
Being consciously thankful in word and deed is most valuable when used consistently throughout all the various experiences of life. Appreciating good helps us to remember good, especially when times are difficult. It wards off that sense of hopelessness and dejection that so often waits for us amid life’s challenging experiences.
American poetess, writer and singer, Maya Angelou has lived a life full of controversy, heartbreak and difficulty. But Angelou is more than a positive thinker. With her deep Christian roots (to which she often refers) and a thorough understanding of the importance of gratitude, she continually expresses a joy and vivacity that has been untouched by the human trials and disappointments she has encountered.
Gratitude is not just a Thanksgiving Day platitude. It is something that re-energizes us, restores the broken heart, gives hope and repositions how we see life. It lifts us up.
May you have “Happy Thanksgiving” throughout the year