by Glenn Laycock
Thanksgiving in Canada celebrates the closeout of the growing season(s) and is the traditional time when people pause to celebrate the harvest with gratitude for having received all they need to survive the winter months, and to look forward to the coming spring.
There is plenty of research on the benefits of gratitude. Harvard Medical School for example published an article called, “In Praise of Gratitude.” It shows that gratitude helps us to adjust our perception to look beyond ourselves – to see the opportunities and events around us that we are often so used to, we don’t recognize them as positives. We have put them outside our conscious recognition. The article went on to say..
“The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness, as a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power”. —In Praise of Gratitude –
This connection is perhaps something we recognize in our celebrations at the dinner table. But while there is an obvious “feel good” that comes from connecting in this way, I wonder if there is far more to this timely motivational pick-me-up that could be more lasting. So my three questions this Thanksgiving are:
- Does gratitude improve health not only in the short term, but also in a more permanent way?
- Does gratitude effect people’s perceptions? And if so, how and to what effect?
- How does it help me feel more connected?
Regarding improved health outcomes, the Greater Good Science Society from the University of California published its findings in a post, “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude”. Some of the benefits researchers are finding include an improved immune system, a more positive emotional state, a more giving attitude, and the feeling of community.
I understand the feeling of community being changed by cultivating a sense of gratitude. I went through times of great happiness and wanted to share this with others, but this was counter balanced with the exact opposite, where I would be angry, sad, resentful, and even selfish. I found that poor health was often a result of negativity – you think “down” and you feel down and under the weather.
I finally realized I had to base my life and stability on something that was unchanging and provable. To actively realize that my relationship with God was something to be grateful for – and this being the way it is “day in and day out” seemed a good place to begin. Once I started noting all the things to be grateful for and seeing how God’s love was the source – not myself – it turned my awareness into permanent behaviors and actions, and improved health.
Being attuned to God’s perfection, taking note of and interacting with this goodness is perhaps a hint of why gratitude makes me feel more connected or “in tune” with God’s goodness and opportunities.
Like the study showed, I became much more positive and that was reflected in being healthier and indeed responsive to the opportunities around me.
This leads into a second question. Looking for gratitude is important. 19th century Christian healer and health researcher Mary Baker Eddy, asks “Are we really grateful for what we have already received?”
Once we perceive and acknowledge things to be grateful for – what does that do?
Cultivating gratitude has opened my thought to opportunities that would have been previously invisible to me. In business I have had it happen time and again – where a solution to a problem became resolved this way.
I had an example of this, when I was working weekends at a bank. Working often alone I literally had too many clients, to serve effectively. Beginning with prayer, I knew activity was a “good problem” and I just needed become aware of the solution. Gratitude started my thought process – thanks for “quiet weekends” being no longer quiet anymore, but full of potential and activity.
As John Milton, a 17th century poet once said, “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we view the world.”
As I prayed about it, what suddenly seemed an “obvious solution” got my attention and it lead to a much more efficient way to serve all my customers needs; and more than doubled the business I could process in a day.
Gratitude is a life style choice. It does not need to be confined to a once a year event when we alter our usual behavior patterns for a “one off” Thanksgiving celebration and sense of family connection. It is far more lasting and durable then positive “glass half full” thinking, because it inspires better long term behavior and brings that sense of spiritual connectedness that can change how we see and experience life. It gives us wisdom and courage in difficulties. It takes our focus away from the negative, and leaves us noticing the goodness. Then new opportunities become abundantly clear.
Glenn Laycock is the Committee on Publication for Manitoba