Well, Thanksgiving was nice. A day to feast with family and/or friends and give thanks for all we have. Felt good, didn’t it? Why not keep it going?
Gratitude expert Richard Emmons, PhD, and others have collected and conducted studies showing that giving thanks improves physical and psychological health. It improves self-esteem, social relationships, and sleep. Gratitude even helps people overcome trauma.
I believe gratitude is the surest, easiest path to happiness and a fulfilled life. The more thanks you give, the better you will feel. We don’t always have a feast to give thanks for, but we have so many things that enrich and enable our lives every day, things we rarely even think of.
Here are some you’re swimming in right now and probably haven’t noticed:
Air. This is not just an inanimate thing that happens to be there. It’s continuously created by every, animal, plant, and bacteria in the world. You could thank them, and the people who fight so hard to keep air breathable by controlling pollution.
Water. Not just the water you drink, cook, and clean with, but all the water inside you. Water is life. You’d be dead in a second without it.
Food. If you thanked all the plants and animals you eat; the insects that pollinate the plants; the bugs, worms, and germs that make the soil; the people who farm the food and get it to you; those who pay you the money you use to buy it; and so on; you’d never stop. And don’t forget the sun, whose energy you’re eating.
Warmth and shelter. If you have those, you’re truly lucky. Think about how you got it and how it’s maintained and what keeps you warm.
Sleep. If you can sleep, be thankful for that. If not, I hope you can find out why and change it.
Other people in your life. The ones who give you friendship and love, the ones who drive your buses, educate your children, entertain you. The ones who give you meaning — your family and close friends. A teacher you had, a singer whose music moves you, a person who inspires you or makes you laugh.
Can you list 100 things to be grateful for? Or one for each year of your life? It’s an interesting party game with significant spiritual rewards.
Is there beauty in your life? Whether created by artists or by God or whomever, can you notice and appreciate the colors, the forms, the designs you can see all around you?
The Internet is an amazing thing, a constantly available source of education, beauty, and diversion. There are a lot of bad things on the ‘net, too, just as there are in life, but there’s a lot to love.
Then there are all the good things you have created for yourself. Do you have good self-esteem? Are you still learning and growing? Not everyone does.
Thanks for hard things
If you’re working in a coal mine or an industrial laundry all day, you might not experience as much delight as you deserve. It can be harder to be thankful when life is very hard or bad things are happening. These times will happen to all of us, though to some more than others.
How can you maintain an attitude of gratitude when someone you love is suffering or worse? Obviously, you can’t do it all the time. You have to take time to grieve and sometimes to fight. But the more you can find to be thankful for, the better you’ll feel and, probably, function.
According to Dr. Emmons, “It is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope.”
One of the things he suggests is to keep a mental or written list of things you have to be grateful for, like the ones I listed and the ones you can come up with. Can you come up with five things you are thankful for right now? If you can, you will probably be able to handle stresses that come up.
What about diabetes? Can you be thankful for that? The pain and difficulty of diabetes are obvious, but do you see any benefits? Have you learned anything from it; has it changed you in any positive ways?
Many people say things like, “I take better care of myself now,” or “Diabetes was a wake-up call.” Self-management may have brought you new foods, new exercises, new skills, or new friends. Is there anything else about diabetes that has been a positive for you?
Whatever your answers to those questions, staying thankful will make you happier and better to be around. It’s not rocket science. You don’t have to become a saint or a hero. You don’t have to undergo years of therapy or spend hours each day in meditation and prayer. Just give thanks.