ARE YOU GRATEFUL?
When is the last time you felt grateful? I am not talking about someone doing you a favor or holding the door when your hands were full. Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So, stop thinking about borrowing your dad’s Ferrari for a “day off” and actually spend time thinking about, and realizing, all of the wonderful things you have in your life. Are you grateful?
Easier said than done, and it takes practice! Just about one year ago, we all started hearing about Covid—-don’t worry, this blog is not about Covid—I just need to share a brief personal experience. As things with the pandemic got worse and worse last year, many of us experienced shelter in place orders. I made a big decision when the lock downs started; I chose to find ways to learn from the experience. I knew this could be a great opportunity for personal growth, and looking back I was right! Over the last year, I spent time in my backyard appreciating the beauty of the trees and landscaping. I put in a fire pit and loved the serenity of sitting around a nice blaze, listening to music and, of course, sipping a cocktail. Other things have given me time to pause and give thanks to wonderful in my life things: family Zoom calls, phone calls with others to “stay in touch,” cooking more, I added six-mile walks to my yoga routine and enjoyed all of the scenes along the way, and even just slowing down and not going out—boy, now I love staying home. The ultimate was my 29-year-old daughter, who lives in Dallas, staying with me (along with her dog) for 12 weeks during shelter in place. As a bonus, my 27-year-old daughter and her fiancée (and their dog) drove from LA to spend two weeks with us—Not just a blessing, but it felt like winning the lottery. Although, instead of a major cash inflow when you hit the jackpot, you have no idea of the cash outflow necessary to feed everyone—-but worth every cent. I am certain that my approach to Covid and focusing on the what was good in my life and the things I grateful for eased my anxiety and other fears about the disease. And, I just felt better about my life!
As it turns out, there’s a great deal to be gained from truly feeling grateful. Research has linked gratitude with a wide range of benefits, including strengthening your immune system and improving sleeping patterns, feeling optimistic and experiencing more joy and pleasure, being more helpful and generous, and feeling less lonely and isolated.
It even helps to mitigate depression. Researchers at the Indiana University (https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Does-gratitude-writing-improve-the-mental-health-of-Wong-Owen/72fe71cde67610aef9fbe286fcb9e6c420baf53c?p2df) recruited 300 people (mostly college students) receiving mental health counseling and randomized them into three groups. In addition to the counseling sessions, one group was asked to write a letter of gratitude each week for three weeks. The second group journaled their thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group only received counseling but did no writing. The gratitude-letter group “reported significantly better mental health” than either those who journaled or those who received counseling alone. Other studies have found that counting blessings and gratitude writing reduces the risk of depression.
Those researchers at Indiana University did a further study. Using an fMRI scanner, they compared brain activity in the gratitude letter-writers with those who didn’t write letters. The letter-writers showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision-making—and the effect persisted three months later. “Simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain,” they concluded, noting that practicing gratitude can lead to greater sensitivity to the experience of gratitude in the future.
So, there you have it! You don’t need to listen to my personal anecdote about focusing on gratefulness and its benefits; it is actually based upon science. It is really easy to practice being grateful, and you only need to spend a few minutes a day. Perhaps before your feet hit this ground in the morning, think about the things you are grateful for a moment or two. It is certainly a better way to start your day than thinking about what you don’t have, or things you think you need, or problems you may be facing. You may find a moment driving to work, or these days, in between Zoom meetings to focus on things that bring joy to your life. Maybe go crazy and close your eyes, take a few calming deep breaths, and focus on just one thing that you are grateful for—meditating on gratefulness is a powerful tool. Or, like in the Indiana University study, write a letter of gratitude to yourself on a regular basis, even just once a week.
It is easy to overlook all of the wonderful things you have in your life, and even if you are facing challenges such as loss of your job or that of a loved one, a failed relationship, health issues, loss of a loved one, there are still positive elements in your life if you decide to look for them. You have a choice: to focus on the negative or search for the good, the positives in your life—they are always with you and are just waiting for you to recognize them. If you have gotten this far in the blog, do me and yourself a favor, right now write down three thing you are grateful for. Boom, you have now started being grateful, and it is up to you to continue this amazing journey.
PS. My daughter Jamie edited this blog, and I guess she took my advice to write three things she is grateful for, since here is what I discovered in her edits:
1. I’m grateful to have an amazing family
2.I’m grateful for Dennis, Larry, Teddy, and Junior! (for the reader, our family dogs)
3.I’m grateful to have a dad who’s a kickass writer!!!