Research studies are finding evidence that an attitude of gratitude is an important component of any successful wellness program. Dictionary.com defines gratitude as the state of being "warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful". As you can see, this definition is pretty-opened minded, leaving us countless options when it comes to things to be grateful for and people to feel grateful towards.
It's easy to recognize the big things, like a new job, a new baby, getting married, buying a new house or surviving a car crash, even though some people insist on taking them for granted. I'll admit that in the absence of "big" things happening in my life, it's easy to overlook the smaller blessings that are occurring continuously. It's sad that many of us (myself included) focus on being grateful for all we have on Thanksgiving Day, and then go back to complaining about all that we don't have for the other 364 days of the year.
There are spiritual reasons for living with an attitude of gratitude. The German theologian and philosopher Meister Eckhart is commonly quoted as having said that "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was 'thank you', that would suffice."
Those of us who believe in God know of the immeasureable gifts we have already been given, so much so that we often feel guilty when we ask for more. Yet, from a spiritual perspective, we know that a grateful heart not only pleases God, but it benefits us as well. Author Terry Lynn Taylor says that "Gratitude is our most direct line to God and the angels. If we take the time, no matter how crazy and troubled we feel, we can find something to be thankful for. The more we seek gratitude, the more reason the angels will give us for gratitude and joy to exist in our lives."
It gets even simpler than that. Consider these words from author Ralph Marston. "What if you gave someone a gift, and they neglected to thank you for it--would you be likely to give them another? Life is the same way. In order to attract more of the blessings that life has to offer, you must truly appreciate what you already have."
But the benefits of an attitude of gratitude don't stop there. Regardless of your spiritual persuasion, and even in the absence of any, researchers are finding physical and emotional benefits to being grateful. For example, exercising gratitude has been shown to:
- relieve stress
- boost the immune system
- increase alertness, enthusiasm, optimism and energy
- reduce depression
- improve overall health
- increase spiritual awareness, regardless of "religion"
- improve sleep quality
There are lots of exercises that can be found online to help exercise our gratitude muscles. However, the one I see most commonly, and that I'm guessing is one of the most effective, is one that is quite simple. Take time at the end of each day to write down at least three things that you're grateful for. There's something about writing things down that makes them more real, that brings them into clearer focus. And, if you're having trouble finding things to be grateful for, committing to this exercise - no matter what - will cause you to begin to be more aware throughout the day, looking for things to put on your list each evening.
If you want to add a slightly different twist to this exercise, consider taking the advice of clinical psychologist Blair Justice, Ph.D., professor-emeritus of psychology at the UT School of Public Health at Houston. At the end of each day, he asks himself these three questions: What has surprised me? What has touched me? What has inspired me?
Dr. Justice says that "hard-bitten folks have trouble finding beauty or seeing life anew in a daily way, and their arteries and immune system suffer for it." He believes that answering these three questions "inspires us to see the stuff of our days through fresh eyes."
(to be continued...)