I have discussed the importance of gratitude in previous blogs and on many radio interviews, but I wanted to re-address the issue as a salute today to Thanksgiving. Many of us will sit around the festive dining table, stare at the wealth of food spread across the linen, and lower our heads in a prayer of thanks for all that we have been given. But that is a holiday habit, which we should incorporate into every day of our lives. It’s a habit, which should not be saved for just the special occasions.
I am not asserting that everyone needs to stop and pray before each meal, but some time during the day it would be a mood lifting and physically healthy habit to pause and express some silent (or written) words of gratitude. That daily habit provokes a powerful mental state. Many self-help and self-improvement speakers have lectured on the benefits of gratitude for improving physical and mental health. Historical figures from Benjamin Franklin to Wayne Dyer, have applauded any habit that involves any expression of gratitude.
With our expanding psychological, but still scientific studies, we have solid research on the benefit of gratitude for helping to fight, and possibly to cure, many illnesses. We have the excellent work of Dr. Donna Hoffman, who evaluated the role of gratitude in battling against one of our more traumatic cancers – the disfiguring cancer of the head and neck. She showed how gratitude, especially when practiced on a daily basis, promotes physical and psychological well-being, improves social functioning, and decreases the level of depression.
Dr. Donna Hoffman and many other experts have demonstrated how gratitude is better correlated with positive psychological health than any other emotion. Even the equal of Norman Cousin’s emphasis on laughter. More importantly, Dr. Hoffman and other researchers have shown how a daily practice of gratitude can prove to be a positive habit for those people with cancer, helping them face the crisis from a position of emotional strength, helping them fight (and recover from) the disease, and helping them regain their emotional footing.
Those experts have also highlighted how gratitude can desert us in times of hardship and adversity, but how it is crucial, in the words of Dr. Donna Hoffman, to “recapture the capacity of feeling gratitude toward anything in our lives.” Our task is simple, but difficult. If we can recapture that feeling, then our chances of a better life, and a healthier life, markedly improve. But how do we re-capture that feeling in moments of loss or in moments of crisis? We can start through several easy habits, remembering that is the little triumphs that lead to greatest successes.
One starting point is journaling. Writing down our feelings, attempting to include any feelings of gratitude. Another habit could be the writing down, each days, three things for which we are grateful. In today’s world you do not need to wait for paper and pen. You can use your cell phone and keep your own calendar. We can also include it in every dinner conversation. Do you want to know an indirect way of reaching those points? Ask your children what was their peak and valley for the day. You learn more about them and their lives; and you help them focus on some of the high points, which often lead to the sense of gratitude.
Wayne Dyer, who died on August 30th of this year, often preached another approach. He viewed prayer as our talking to God; and he viewed meditation as God talking to us. Wayne Dyer believed that we needed to do more listening, less chatting. In fact, he believed that many of our world problems stem from our inability to remain silent. So, as a Thanksgiving Day special act, why not try a session of meditation, preferably before the feast? Find a quiet room and sit quietly for 20-30 minutes, breathing slowly while focusing on your breath and clearing your mind.
Do you know what happens? Several things. Your body relaxes, releasing some of the tensions of the day. Your mind also relaxes, letting go of the worries and doubts. Your neurochemistry changes. Better yet, you find yourself feeling a connection, even if it is slight at the beginning, with God; and with that connection, you often feel a surge of love for God (and a love for life), but you also feel a sense of gratitude for just being alive and connected to the world around us – and connected to God (and the life force of life).
Here’s my Thanksgiving recommendation. Let’s follow the suggestions of people in the above paragraphs. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, let see if we can develop one of these habits and develop the daily pattern of expressing (either silently or verbally or through writing) our sense of gratitude for life itself. If you can develop this habit, I think you will find that your mood will lift, that your social connections with people will expand, and that your physical health – even if you have an illness – will also improve. In short, your entire life will get better.
Willing to give it a try?
For more than just the day of Thanksgiving?
You won’t regret it …
Because it will improve the quality of your life …