The power of gratitude has lasting impacts

Tomorrow, most Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving, a day of gratitude for many things. Gratitude is worthy of a national holiday because if done right, it offers so much to those who offer the gratitude. It’s also nice for those who receive it, but not all people do receive our gratitude due to a low self-worth, but we can keep trying. Over time, they will get the message that we appreciate them. In the meantime, if we are sincere in giving gratitude we always receive the benefits.

To warm up our gratitude beacons, here’s a list of synonyms for gratitude: thanksgiving, thankfulness, acknowledgement, recognition, thanks, appreciation, grace, gratefulness, honor, praise, and responsiveness. The opposites are ingratitude, thanklessness and condemnation.

For a start, imagine someone or something that you don’t like, or are not grateful for in your life (Stop and do it, so you can really experience this). How does it make you feel? Now think of someone or something that you appreciate so much and are so grateful that it is in your life. How does that feel? Way better, doesn’t it? Think about that the next time you feel low. Are you being ungrateful for something? When you figure out what it is, take a step to change it. Grateful people tend to stay grateful even when life takes a down turn. They trust that they can handle it, and that it may even offer something wonderful for them that they couldn’t have learned any other way.

It may seem strange to us that someone could go through cancer and chemo and/or surgery and be grateful for the experience. But I am and I know of many others who are. It offered me time to stop and truly consider what was important in my life. It deepened me spiritually and now I have much less fear about ever so many things.

Philosophy and religion have been way ahead of science in studying the effects of gratitude on a person, but science is beginning to catch up. Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis is one of the foremost authorities on the topic of gratitude in North America. He’s written a book called “Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.”

“His research has shown that gratitude improves emotional and physical health, and it can strengthen relationships and communities.” I believe that there is an underlying sense of gratitude in Kauaians. Once, when my family was driving down “Pothole Alley” on the way to Polihale, we met a woman whose car had gotten badly stuck, and possibly damaged by hitting one of the better ones there. We offered to help her with our truck, but she said that a friend was on his way, and wasn’t it a beautiful day, today?

There wasn’t a sense of “why me?” or “life is so unfair,” or even “This has ruined my day.” Just a sense of her enjoying the beautiful day while she was waiting for a friend to come help her. That exemplifies gratitude consciousness.

Dr. Emmons goes on to share that cultivating an attitude of gratitude may be difficult in the beginning. It’s always a choice. He says, “We must be willing to recognize and acknowledge that we are the recipients of an unearned benefit.” And the one that we can all be grateful for is Life. It is a gift. We didn’t create it, and what we do with it us up to us. We’ve seen “handicapped” people thrive, and wealthy successful people be very depressed.

Dr. Emmons states that, “People must give up a ‘victim mentality’ and overcome a sense of entitlement and deservedness.’” If I think that good things “should” happen to me because of what I have done or given, or earned, or my parents’ name, then I’m acting “entitled.” That’s not gratitude, but something earned.

Other people believe that they are victims of everything. In a YouTube video “Never, Ever Give Up. Arthur’s Inspiration,” Arthur, who had been a paratrooper in the Gulf War and damaged his back and knees, ended up gaining weight and could just shuffle around with crutches.

But something inside was still alive. Even after 15 years, he never gave up. He finally found a yoga instructor who thought he could help him. Arthur worked hard. I even witnessed him fall on his face trying to take his first unaided step. He was grateful when he first lost some weight. Then he began to get some balance. He lost more weight, He could walk with one cane, then no canes. He sprints. The last picture shows a man with a youthful face, trim, and he is offering gratitude to the one yoga instructor who believed in him. His whole life changed.

Dr. Emmons has conducted research on developing gratitude and found that those people who considered themselves grateful:

w “Report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.

w Have the capacity to be empathic and to take the perspective of others. They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks.

w Are more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to and responsibility to others.

w Place less importance on material goods; they are less likely to judge their own and others success in terms of possessions accumulated; they are less envious of wealthy persons; and more likely to share their possessions with others.”

It helps to keep a gratitude journal. There are so many wonderful things that come our way that sometimes we aren’t even aware of all the gifts we receive. I’m grateful for the free turkey I got at Foodland with my Makai Card and bonus reward! With the money I saved I bought something for my daughter’s family, and she was grateful. And it goes on like that.

One Thanksgiving I surprised my extended family, all sitting around the table. I suggested that we go around the table saying what we were grateful for in each person. Everyone was lifted by the experience.

Since each person relates to another in a unique way for that relationship, it was sweet to see how the relationships gave goodness to each other. We did it right during the meal before people get the urge to get up for one thing or another. You might want to try it, or the quicker version. Everyone says something they’re grateful for to the person on the right all the way around the table, and then go back the other way. Gratitude is powerful. May you have extra helpings!

“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart

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Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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