Thanksgiving: It’s a Matter of Intention

During a personnel performance review cycle years ago, we had peer-to-peer and employee to manager reviews as well as manager to employee reviews. One of my many reviewers constructively critiqued me by suggesting I not see everything as ‘utopia’ and focus more on problems.

I took the criticism seriously, but admittedly it is a natural bent for me to look at the bright side of things, and at times my rose-colored glasses need removal. It may be annoying to some people, but optimism is a way that I cope with certain difficult situations. This is not to say I don’t struggle with grumbling and complaining, but gratitude is usually not the most challenging exercise for me. Interestingly, the gratitude lab found that ‘the disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions. Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life….’

Recently, my lack of gratitude took me by surprise. My husband found the solution to a chronic nagging problem I had faced for several years, and I was incredibly grateful every day that the problem was resolved! Yet after several weeks, I noticed less acknowledgement of gratitude. A new normal made it easy to take this treasured relief for granted.

It takes intention to increase and maintain our gratitude level and reap the many benefits we discussed yesterday. Here are some proven steps we can take toward this end:

1. Keep a ‘daily list’ or ‘gratitude journal’. List 7–10 things that you are grateful for each day. Use a journal or notebook. There are even gratitude apps for mobile devices.
2. Write gratitude notes. Maximize the value of your gratitude by writing a letter to someone you appreciate. Start with one person a week.
3. Each time you pick up the phone, send a text, or email someone, give thanks for that person. Take time to remember how grateful you are for the people and provisions in your life.
4. If you are struggling with sadness or are in a bad mood, quickly jot down or mentally note five things for which you are thankful.
5. Seek out grateful people and avoid those who gossip and complain. (That means don’t gossip or complain!)
6. Publicly acknowledge others with gratitude.

Gratitude is contagious. By increasing your gratitude, others will benefit. Emmons’ studies show that ‘expressions of gratitude by one person tend to motivate others to express gratitude thus having a virtuous cycle started, as well as reciprocal behavior.’

Gratitude affirms. We will still have areas that we wish were different, no one implies that we ought to put on rose-colored glasses to obscure shortcomings. ‘But most of us tend to focus so heavily on the deficiencies in our lives that we barely perceive the good that counterbalances them.’ (Dr. Alan Morinis)  We need to shift our focus.

Gratitude is a choice.  It’s not circumstances or genetic wiring or something that we don’t have control over. Gratitude is an attitude we can choose that makes life better for ourselves and for other people. I think about it as a best-practice approach to life…Emmons says, ‘When things go well gratitude enables us to savor things going well. When things go poorly gratitude enables us to get over those situations and to realize they are temporary.’

Be joyful always; pray continually;  give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever. Jeremiah 33.11

Let’s take a gratitude challenge and be intentional this season as well as in the year to come.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thanksgiving: It’s a Matter of Perspective

A past family thanksgiving photo reveals a giant turkey with Brent’s mom and brother (we sure miss you, Jess). The bird was a only a 13 pounder,  yet it looks like it weighed 25 pounds!  Perspective can be deceptive!

This turkey confusion is not unlike our human ability to make a mountain out of a molehill and see our life issues from a negative perspective. There’s nothing like a paradigm shift toward gratitude to help our health and well-being. Studies show that the practice of gratitude has a variety of benefits.  Dr. Robert Emmons of University of California, Davis, runs a research lab dedicated to the study of gratitude and thanksgiving.

“Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress,” Emmons says.  “So much of gratitude is about one’s perspective and framework for looking at the world and at self. People who tend to be more mindful of the benefits they’ve received tend to focus their attention outward,” Emmons explains.

Some specific areas affected by gratitude are:

  • lower stress levels
  • higher energy and alertness
  • measureable improvements in mood – more positive emotions and optimism
  • lower levels of depression
  • fewer headaches and colds
  • better physiological health (heart rhythms and sleep patterns)
  • greater sense of being connected to others

People with a strong disposition toward gratitude 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 (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002).

Emmons has found that grateful individuals place less importance on material goods and are less likely to judge their own and others success in terms of possessions accumulated.  They are less envious of others and are more likely to share their possessions with others relative to less grateful persons.

The bible heartily promotes gratitude and thanksgiving and mentions the word ‘thanks’ in our English translations over 100 times.  My quick research of the Hebrew and Greek words reveals that ‘thanks’ is actually much more pervasive than the surface reveals.  ‘Praise’ in many instances in the Old Testament and ‘grace’ in the New Testament find their roots in the same words otherwise translated as ‘thanks’, ‘thanksgiving’, ‘grateful’, or ‘gratitude’.

Be joyful always; pray continually;  give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever.  Jeremiah 33.11

Need practical ways to increase your ‘gratitude’ factor and potentially integrate gratitude as your everyday attitude?  Stayed tuned for tomorrow when I’ll share some effective tips.