I planned to write a commentary for Thanksgiving about gratitude. I was surprised how difficult it was to put my thoughts about gratitude into words.
That tells me I’m out of practice.
Maybe you count your blessings each day and consistently express your thanks for all that you have. If so, good for you. I suspect you are a happy, well-adjusted person.
I would like to think that I am appropriately grateful, and occasionally I do take time to count my blessings, but too often I get off track because, well, life happens.
And by life, I mean the stuff that accompanies living that takes up a lot of time and can wear you down. Let me be clear; I have a good life. I have a wonderful wife, a rewarding job and good health. My complaints should be minimal, but they aren’t always.
I suspect the part that is missing is appropriate attention to gratitude.
Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, has researched and written extensively about gratitude. He breaks it down into two components.
The first is that gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. “We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits that we have received,” he writes. “That doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.”
Emmons says the second part is “figuring out where that goodness comes from.”
“We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves,” Emmons says, “but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others.”
So, a critical element of gratitude is acknowledging a power beyond oneself, whether that is other people or a higher power. Either way, goodness is not achieved alone.
And that goodness makes us healthier and happier.
Emmons’ research finds that when individuals regularly express or document their gratitude, they benefit socially, psychologically and even physically “The social benefits are especially significant here,” Emmons writes, “because, after all, gratitude is a social emotion” He sees it as a “relationship-strengthening” emotion.
In short, humility allows us to feel and express gratitude and gratitude contributes to happiness. That seems simple enough, but Emmons says it is not always that easy. There are roadblocks.
They include, but are not limited to, pervasive negativity, “the uncanny ability that we have to lapse into complaint;” A sense of entitlement, “if you are entitled to everything, can you be grateful for anything?” and suffering, “some people have been through so much it is extremely difficult to express gratitude.”
Emmons did not mention my excuse, but it is real. My gratitude muscle needs exercised. Thanksgiving is a suitable time to start, but as with all workout regimens, the challenge will be to stick with it.