Shifting Gears / What a daily dose of gratitude might do
Published 8:14 am, Saturday, November 23, 2013
This is the month for gratitude. Our most inclusive, most American of holidays is upon us. Thanksgiving is a gracious celebration, and it reminds us to be gracious, appreciative and humble. It reflects our better selves, trying as best it can to edge us off our pedestals of independence, self-reliance and smugness and reflect upon how much we have just simply been given.
Thanksgiving nudges us with a reminder that, though so many things could go wrong, so many things haven't. And here we are, again, this year with the Four F's -- food, family, friends and festivity. Yet, as I write this and you read this, we both know that even here -- in the wealth and abundance of Fairfield County Connecticut, U.S.A. -- not everyone has those Four F's this year or any year.
In addition to the Four F's, there are the Two G's that, also, resonate with this holiday. Gratitude and generosity. If we tease gratitude apart a little, we can see it has two components. The first is the acknowledgement of goodness in the world.
This is not to say that badness, in so many forms, does not exist. Gratitude simply says that goodness exists, too.
The other component of gratitude is the recognition that the goodness comes from outside ourselves. When we are grateful, we acknowledge that the goodness we are experiencing is not just a product of our hard work, or that we are entitled to it, or deserve it. It has come to us, though we may, indeed, have worked for it. Fate, chance, good fortune, the luck of the draw, a mentor, a good doctor, a kind person -- something or someone outside ourselves -- had a hand in things working out as they did. Being grateful is recognizing that we are not alone and that we are related and indebted to others.
Psychologists have researched everything human (and more). Here are some facts about gratitude. First, it is a very generous emotion. It gives us a lot in return. People who practice gratitude consistently are physically, emotionally and socially healthier. They have stronger immune systems, are less bothered by aches and pains, have lower blood pressure, exercise more and take better care of their health. Psychologically, they have higher levels of positive emotions, are more alert, alive and vibrant, experience more joy and pleasure and are more optimistic. In their relationships, grateful people are more generous and compassionate, more forgiving and more outgoing.
Grateful people are more generous, and recognition of generosity makes us grateful. And we become more generous and more grateful. And on and on it goes. What an elegant truth.
So here we are, in America, with a holiday based entirely on gratitude. We have been given a lot, by the luck of the draw, the generosity of people and the abundance of goodness in the world. We pause and celebrate this truth on this day on our calendar. What if we remembered every day? We would be happier and healthier. We would give more, laugh more, connect to others more. Our steps would be lighter. We would be filled with more than turkey and stuffing. Of all our holidays, this is the one, I think, we could do well to celebrate every day.
Carol Swenson is a counseling psychologist with a practice in Westport. Her "Shifting Gears" appears monthly, and she may be reached at email@example.com.