Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, asked participants in a months-long experiment to write down a few sentences each week. A third of the group was told to write about things for which they were grateful. A third of the group wrote about daily irritations, the things that made them mad. The last one-third wrote about general events with no emphasis on the negative or positive.
After a few months, those who catalogued their gratitude were more optimistic and generally felt better about their lives and the world than the other participants. And the “thankful” group exercised more, had fewer visits to physicians, and experienced less anxiety. Active gratitude, the researchers learned, is good for people: Spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and physically.
There’s an old hymn we sang in the churches of my youth that could serve as supplemental material to the above research. It is entitled, “Count Your Blessings,” and a stanza of it goes: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost. Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
You have so much for which to be thankful, and while naming these blessings “one by one” might prove to be a list impossibly long, it would do you good to make a start of it. Consider your restful night of sleep and a good mattress; the roof over your head; for strong coffee in the early morning – and even the easy access to cream and sugar – to make that coffee the way you want it.
If you have clean clothes and transportation; for safe travels along the way when so much could go wrong; for a welcoming house of worship; for close friends with whom you share life; for the people who serve you at restaurants, change the oil in your car, teach your children, keep your lights on, and who look after your safety on so many levels.
There is the technology to easily communicate with your loved ones; for air conditioning, bug repellant, and cold beer; for home-cooked meals, music that moves your soul and speaks to your heart; for the beauty of art, the sustaining rain, and the glorious sunsets.
And I haven’t even gotten to “the biggies” yet! Your spouse; children and grandchildren; your health; your ability to make a living; for the unconditional love of a child or a dog; for the senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch; for having this chance – this one marvelous chance – to be fearfully and wonderfully made.
Meister Eckhart, a German mystic from seven centuries ago, said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘Thank you,’ it will be enough.” I think that is right, for gratitude is the truest act of worship. That, and it is good for you in almost every other way conceivable, as well.