Christmas décor is festooned in all of the department stores and Christmas music is playing almost everywhere I go. A few yards are already decorated with the big blow-up Santa and his not-so-tiny reindeer.
All of this can only mean one thing – Thanksgiving Day is almost here.
Thanksgiving Day is actually one of my favorite holidays. There is something special about sitting together for a festive meal of ritual foods while millions of other people are doing the same. But more important is the practice of taking time to reflect upon the goodness of life.
Spiritual teachers, holy writings, Twelve-step recovery groups and many other people and places have emphasized the importance of gratitude through the years, decades and centuries.
What is interesting is that science is catching up with the value of counting one’s blessings, even when times are hard. Two university researchers, Robert A. Emmons and Michael McCullough, recently conducted a study about gratitude, which finds that thinking about and expressing things for which we are grateful is directly linked to happiness and well-being.
Their study, “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” focuses how the attitude of gratitude appears to have strong life benefits.
Participants in the series of studies were asked to keep records of their moods, coping behaviors, health behaviors, physical symptoms, and overall life appraisals. In a third study, persons with neuromuscular disease were randomly assigned to either the gratitude condition or to a control condition. The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several of the outcome measures across the three studies.
The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits. The scientific minded can read the complete study here.
True, the life in this world can be a challenging place. Newspapers, television and the internet serve up plate after plate of dire news. Our own lives can shaken by personal and family struggles. Yet life can also be good, and blessings can abound.
So here’s my prescription:
Whatever your situation, notice the blessings, however small, in your life. Sit with them and feel them stir in your heart, letting your heart open to them. Write them in a journal, on a paper on the fridge. Share them with people who are willing to listen and ask to listen to their recounting of their blessings. Say thank you.
For me, this quotation says it all: “With gratitude, all life appears as a blessing - without gratitude, all of life is perceived as a burden.” - Jonathan Lockwood Huie.