Here it is, the day after Thanksgiving, and I’ve been reflecting on the subject of gratitude. For some reason, I was taken back to a dark time in my life, in the late 80’s.
I had been attending counseling sessions at the Veterans Outreach Center, as I tried to adjust to my “new normal” of becoming an ex-wife of a Vietnam War combat vet. My counselor had introduced me to the works of Victor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning.” One of Frankl’s quotes goes like this:
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
I’d also been going to Al-Anon and Open AA meetings for sometime, due to a family member’s alcohol problems. My life seemed to consist of constant stress and increasing feelings of hopelessness and despair.
Then, in the midst of all of my downheartedness, people in meetings were talking about how an “attitude of gratitude” could help us better cope with whatever problems we were facing.
Many evenings, as I sat silently listening to others relay their own struggles, I would think to myself, “But you don’t know how hard I have it! You don’t know what has happened to me.”
But as I continued attending meetings, slowly things began to sink in. I decided that I needed to do a “Gratitude List.” While my list consisted of a couple of things like “Well, I still have a job,” and “I have a roof over my head” I really couldn’t see much beyond that.
Slowly, as I continued on with meetings and doing a lot of reading on the subjects of alcoholism, dysfunctional relationships and trauma, I found that some of my depression and despair was lifting. My gratitude lists grew in length.
There is actually research that shows that practicing gratitude can provide physical and mental benefits.
In an excellent article on The Change Blog, Marelisa Fabrega cites a study by two psychologists, Michael McCollough, of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Robert Emmons, of the University of California at Davis.
They did an experiment on gratitude and its impact on well-being. They split several hundred people into three different groups and all of the participants were asked to keep daily diaries.
The first group kept a diary of the events that occurred during the day, without being told specifically to write about either good or bad things; the second group was told to record their unpleasant experiences; and the last group was instructed to make a daily list of things for which they were grateful.
The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy. In addition, those in the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more regularly, and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals.
In addition, Dr. Emmon’s research shows that those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a stronger immune system, and have stronger social relationships than those who don’t practice gratitude.
He further points out that “To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.”
I know myself how practicing gratitude has enhanced my life. Today I have achieved many of my life’s goals, and I’ve found a great measure of peace of mind. If you’re not already practicing gratitude, I encourage all of you to try it.
And for more thoughts on gratitude, visit The Change Blog. It’s a very inspiring and uplifting website with a lot to offer us.