Friday, November 23, 2012

An Attitude of Gratitude

I had planned to write this yesterday, on the day that the US celebrates Thanksgiving Day, but then I decided to wait. Many people think about thankfulness and gratitude on that one day of the year; but what about the rest of the time?

If for no other reason, we should pay attention to gratitude for the benefits it offers to our brains and bodies. According to Dr. P. Murhli Doralswamy of Duke University, optimism and feelings of gratitude actually have measurable and beneficial "effects on multiple body and brains systems."

According to Harvard Health, when we acknowledge the good things in our lives, it helps connect us to the people around us, to nature, or a higher power. It "helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships."

Many studies have shown that a positive outlook leads to less depression and a long life expectancy. Here's a list of 31 More Benefits of Gratitude.


I learned this phrase when I lived in Japan. The literal translation is "I humbly receive," and it is often said like a grace before eating. But it is really more than that. Itadakimasu expresses gratitude to everyone and everything that had something to do with getting your meal to you.

You are thanking any animals or even plants that gave up their lives so that you can eat. You are thanking the rancher who raised the meat, or the hunter who brought it home from the wild. You are thanking the farmer who planted and cared for and harvested the plants you are eating. You are thanking everyone who participated in transporting the meal to your home. You are thanking the person who cooked the meal and set the table and served it to you. You could even take it further by including thanking the earth that supported the plants and animals, the sun that gave its energy, and the rain that kept everything hydrated.

The problem with something like this is that it is easy to just say the words and not really think about the meaning. But by really running the whole thing through your mind, it keeps you much more aware of what it took to get that food to you.


Expressing gratitude is nice for whomever you share it with, but it is even more important for what it does to you. It can change your whole life. Gratitude focuses your attention on the good stuff in your life.

Think of the old sayings we are all familiar with:
  • Look at the bright side.
  • Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • Count your blessings.
Looking for things to be grateful for will make you notice things that you have been taking for granted.

Sometimes we get so busy that we forget to notice the things that really matter. Mindfulness can help us to pay attention to that good stuff. And if you are concentrating on the good stuff, the bad stuff has a hard time getting through. There are some steps you can take that will help you focus on those positive emotions, like keeping a Gratitude Journal, writing letters of gratitude, and meditating on things for which you are grateful.

A Gratitude Journal

Whether it is some small notebook or a place on your computer, keeping a gratitude journal focuses your mind on looking for positive things in your life. You could write an entry every day or once a week or even a weekend marathon. I like the daily idea because it assures that you are thinking about it every day. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate - a single word would do. Or you could write a whole page to explain. It's your journal.

My friend Angelique has been posting her gratitude journal on Facebook all this month. Going public with it might get others to think about the good things in their own lives, but I prefer privacy. I like to let the ideas run round and round in my brain and finally come out through my hand and my pencil onto the paper in front of me. Somehow, writing it longhand seems more personal and from my heart than typing on the computer.

Another version of this is the Three Blessings Exercise. Every night before you go to bed, write down three good things that happened to you during the day.

UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center has a  Fourteen Day Challenge for you.

Letters of Gratitude

I didn't get to go to college until I was in my late 30s. It was a tiny community college, and I took writing classes from the same teacher all year. Mrs. Widmer taught me to write poetry and essays and research papers. She was the most encouraging teacher I've ever had in my life.

Early this summer, I happened to run into a notebook containing every assignment I did in her classes. That notebook brought back that entire year of classes to me. It gave me such a good feeling that I wanted to share with her just how much she had changed my life. So I sat down a wrote an email of gratitude to thank her for all she had given to me.

I wanted her to know that I am still writing and that I am also tutoring college students with their writing projects. Hopefully, I am passing on not just the knowledge she shared with me but also the encouragement that made so much difference in my life.

I had never heard of a letter of gratitude at the time, but that's exactly what it was. Writing the letter made me feel wonderful, and I hope that receiving it did the same for her.


As you meditate, focus your thoughts on what you're grateful for - just simple things like the sound of waves breaking at the beach, the warmth of the sun, the patter of rain on the roof, or a fresh snowfall. Think about the love you feel toward your partner, your children, your grandchildren, and your good friends.

See how this type of meditation helps you to manage stress, sleep better, feel more satisfied with your life, show kindness toward others, especially your partner.

Nothing to be Grateful for?

Imagine having no home, no food, no money, no family or friends, a terminal illness. There is always someone who is worse off than you are. Noticing simple pleasures changes your focus from what you lack to what you have.

I'm going to leave you with a link to a site that I think is wonderful: Gratitude. I have linked to this before, but I think it is so great that it is worth watching over and over again. While you are there, be sure to watch the other amazing movies from Louie Schwartzberg and Moving Art.



1 comment:

  1. Nice post -- I like the idea of Itadakimasu, which I had never heard of before, and also your suggestions about keeping a gratitude journal and esp. writing gratitude notes . . . and now I realize have some work to do.

    One more thing I'm grateful for? I'm grateful that I'm smart enough not to buy lottery tickets!