For millions of people around the world, saying grace before a meal can be a family ritual, a conscious prayer in advance, or part of a healthier attitude to life in general. We are expecting the meal to be good, whether it is a simple one or a sumptuous feast such as the Thanksgiving Dinner.
A lot has been written over the last few years confirming that gratitude is beneficial to health. In a recent article in Maclean’s, “Why Gratitude Could be Good for your Health,” Cathie Gulli looks at a variety of studies regarding the link between health and gratitude. The result of one study shows that gratitude is associated with less inflammation in the body. Another study with high-school students has shown a strong link between regular gratitude and less depression. One of the key things learned from these studies is that gratitude creates a deeper relationship between the giver and the receiver.
Most of this research focuses on the effect of expressed gratitude for the good already received. But what about the idea of giving thanks before something good comes our way? This idea intrigued me when I thought about saying grace before a meal. What if I were grateful for the day before it even started? I decided to extend the practice of advanced gratitude into my daily life.
I began my experiment with a table grace I learned as a child, “For what I am about to receive may I be truly grateful.” Only I meant it for the whole day, not just for the breakfast I was about to eat. This simple prayer at the start of each day has had quite a profound effect on my attitude and experience. I begin the day expecting good, and I look for the wonderful, special and inspiring in every moment.
But I’ve found that to be an actual life-changer, this expectation needs to be based on something much deeper than positive thinking. Gratitude is actually a spiritual reference point that acknowledges the source of all good – that is, God – as present, permanent and unchanging, and as something we can experience each day. This conscious, daily expectancy of good has strengthened me when I have had both minor and major challenges to face. Negative events do not trouble me nearly so much, nor are they so distracting, when my thoughts are anchored in the healing power of divine goodness. I worry less about the future. And, I feel more consistently whole and well.
For example, one particular day I woke up feeling the symptoms of what threatened to be a nasty cold. But rather than predicting how the course of this cold would ruin my week, I refocused on my simple prayer of gratitude for the day ahead. This opened my thinking to what God was giving me – i.e., all good – and what I could expect from that in going forward. The result was quite startling. I became so engrossed in the gratitude – recognizing even small things that were good in my morning – that I forgot about the symptoms that were promising a miserable day. They did not hold my attention any more, and the cold just quickly dissipated.
This may be a simple example, but my experiment with expressing thanks in advance has taught me that gratitude, when consistently practiced, is a prayer that has the capacity to lift us above disturbing or fearful human emotions that contribute to and increase suffering. Even – and maybe especially – in dark times, it presents an opportunity to connect daily with and receive more from the great Giver – the divine ever-presence that is always pouring out goodness that brings comfort and healing wherever it’s needed
Gratitude changes how we see, think and experience our lives.
This Thanksgiving we can be not only grateful for the year that has passed, but also for the good surely coming in the year ahead.
This article has been published in the Vancouver Sun HERE