It’s the Thanksgiving season in the United States. We’ve not always had a seasonal approach to giving thanks. It’s been practiced, off and on, nationally since 1789 and became a national holiday in 1863 during the dark days of the American Civil War.
Is “thanks giving” once a year enough for you?
The daily practice of gratitude is essential to personal health and can reverse the effects of acute and chronic stress. I’m not kidding. It’s in the research. Real research. And besides that, I use it, and I can tell you it works for me.
According to Robert Emmons in his book Gratitude Works, gratitude has one of the strongest links of any personality trait to mental health and satisfaction with life. The practice of gratitude can lead to*
- An improved sense of overall well-being
- More specifically, improved mental and physical health
- Success in achieving personal goals
- Better coping with stress
- Improved personal resilience (ability to bounce back from difficulty)
- Improved relationships
- More other-centered actions
It’s Hard. Being grateful for difficulty and suffering is hard. But, you can be grateful for what the hard times produce in you over the long haul. Sometimes you’ll have to behave gratefully first, and then the feelings follow.
Forgetting will keep you from being grateful. We have come to take so many things for granted that we forget how privileged we are, what wonderful things we’ve experienced, and how blessed we are. Remember?
Mental fatigue. Staying focused on gratitude is mental work, so gratitude exercises are best done in the morning when you are fresh. At the end of the day, you’ll be mentally fatigued and not very excited about doing more mental work.
A sense of entitlement. Emmons notes that a sense of entitlement — the belief that life owes you something, people owe you something, or that you deserve something — keeps you from being truly grateful for the gifts that life brings, including suffering.
Arrogance. Humility is an essential quality of character if one is to be grateful. Humility is the strength of character, which acknowledges your strengths and limitations, dependence on people, and other entities outside you, and seeks a reciprocal relationship of service. It’s about a proper perspective on self and others. This quality allows you to acknowledge that all you have comes from a benevolent creator. You own nothing. All you may think you own, life, possessions, relationships, and the rest is simply entrusted to you for care and use. Acknowledging this kind of dependence can only come from humility. Quoting Emmons:
Eliminating entitlement from your life and embracing gratitude and humility are spiritually and psychologically liberating. Gratitude is the recognition that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift. It is a response to all that has been given. It is not a getting of what we may desire.61
I recommend creating some gratitude triggers, some things to remind you to be grateful. My wife gave me a bracelet engraved with the words “Grateful” and “Hopeful.” When I put it on, it reminds me to be what it says. An even simpler approach is to put a sticky note in a couple of key places where you’ll be reminded to be grateful. Be sure to put one in places where you tend to find yourself fussing or being cranky about where you are and what you’re doing. Be grateful for what these attitudes can produce in you.
For more on the benefits of gratitude as it relates to Stress Management see my book, Put Stress to Work: Turning Headaches to Advantages.
For more on the essential activity of Gratitude, see:
*Emmons, R. A. (2013). Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. [Kindle Version] (Kindle Locations 356-357, 2175). Retrieved from Amazon.com