At this wonderful time of year, we turn our thoughts and our hearts to Thanksgiving, the holiday and the feeling. Gratitude is perhaps the most important of all spiritual practices and it does not require membership in a church or the acceptance of doctrines. Gratitude is the response of a grateful heart to God and to all the blessings that Grace provides moment to moment. Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
Robert Emmons, Ph.D., is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude and has written extensively about why gratitude is good for our bodies, our minds, and our relationships. Dr. Emmons is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.
In a study of more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, he found that those who practiced gratitude consistently reported many benefits. Physically, they hadstronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, were less bothered by aches and pains, and slept better. Psychologically, they were more alert and alive, experienced more joy and pleasure and were happier and more optimistic. Socially, they had more friends, were generous and compassionate, and felt less lonely.
It can be difficult to practice gratitude if we are experiencing challenges in our lives, and yet, if we can begin to re-focus our minds and hearts on blessings and not burdens, we may find our blessings will increase and our burdens will lessen.
Count Your Blessings and Not Your Burdens
Here are three ways to develop the capacity for feeling grateful and for opening our hearts to God’s blessings.
Keep a Gratitude Journal. Spending just five minutes each day recording a few things you feel happy about and grateful for can yield big benefits. My friend Joanne began a gratitude journal during a time of depression following her mother’s death. She decided to use her kitchen calendar – one with big squares for writing – and each day she jotted down three blessings from her day. In a few months she felt better, less depressed, less fearful and more optimistic about her life.
Thank outside the Box. Begin noticing the people in your daily life that make your life possible and then feel grateful for them. When we better understand that we are not self-sustaining, but that we rely upon many people for all the blessings in our lives, we naturally feel grateful. Not long ago I visited a restroom in the Phoenix airport. There was a lovely woman there, wearing the head covering of her Muslim faith. Her job was to keep the restroom clean. Spirit said to me, “Thank her.” And I did. She turned to me with the biggest smile of gratitude. It made my day.
It takes all of us working together to create the things of our daily lives. To produce a single orange for your breakfast table took many months. Reading the Sunkist website was an eye opener. Each new tree is grown not from a seed, but by grafting. As the tree grows, buds form into flowers, but most do not result in fruit because most buds fall off. After bloom, fruit develops and this may take up to eighteen months. Then there is the careful tending of the trees with proper irrigation, fertilizing, pruning, and frost control. After all of that, the fruit is picked by hand and packed into crates for transportation. All for that one orange! Let us thank outside the box and feel grateful to all the people who brought it to us.
Express your gratitude to people with words and acts of appreciation. Often we may think that people already know that we appreciate them and are grateful that they are in our lives. In fact the opposite may be true. They may not know you are thankful for them. Recently I re-read the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 17. Jesus healed all ten lepers, but only one returned to say thank you. Interestingly, in one translation of this story, Jesus then says to him, “Your gratitude has made you whole.” Let us express our gratefulness to all the people who make our lives whole by making a point of telling them in person, writing a brief thank you note, or sending a card. When we express our thanks, we are blessed too.
In this week of Thanksgiving, 2014, we have an opportunity to wake up to all the blessings that fill our lives and to not only feel grateful for them, but also to show our gratitude. Grace surrounds us and fills our lives with abundance. Truly we are blessed!
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your dear ones!