GRAY MATTERS
Notes, News & Musings on Elder Care

 
24 November 2013 by Published in: On Our Minds! No comments yet

First posted in 2010, this “News” bears repeating as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week.

Once again Science, via controlled empirical study, has affirmed an experiential truth: a grateful heart is a happier heart.

I love that researchers are more engaged in the pursuit of Happiness. It seems like a no-brainer, but there was a time, not so long ago, that the roots of happiness were believed to dwell somewhere deep beneath a wounded unconscious.  Painful excavation was considered necessary to discover and eject the demons responsible for igniting individual and collective angst. The “proof” of a positive relationship between happiness and gratitude offers profound hope to seekers. Punitive superego: move over. We can actually get there from here!

Co-Investigators Robert A. Emmons, University of California, Davis and Michael E. McCullough, University of Miami are engaged in a long-term research project, inquiring into the nature of gratitude and thankfulness and its impact on health and wellbeing.

They found that grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, and optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.  Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life. Gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions.

The researchers also note that those strongly disposed toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathic and to understand the point of view of others. People in the social networks of those that are grateful are rated as more generous and more helpful by others (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002).

There is huge value in “practicing” gratitude in concrete ways, thus becoming more aware of blessings. Keeping a gratitude journal on an at least weekly basis by taking just a few minutes to list those things for which one is grateful had a significant impact upon study participants. They reported more regular exercise, fewer physical symptoms, feeling better about their lives overall, and were more optimistic in the following week compared with those who recorded problems and stresses, or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment:  Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals. Gratitude also translated into decreased envy and materialism!

I think most profound and important is a major Kumbayah factor: the finding that grateful people are more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to and responsibility to others (McCullough et. al., 2002). (!)

The happy fruits of gratitude are borne through mindfulness: becoming conscious and attentive to the blessings in your life. This Thanksgiving begin the lucrative practice of creating a list of blessings for which you are grateful. Then at least weekly take a little time to focus on the abundance in your life by continuing to journal simple lists. And breathe deeply. And celebrate.

“Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend… when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present — love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure — the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.” –Sarah Ban Breathnach

Happy Thanksgiving from Monica, Judy, Susie, Trish, Gwen, Gabe, Brooke, Glen  and  Scout!

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