What if you could take a dose of medicine that would cure non-clinical depression, crankiness, anxiety, personality complaint disorders, feelings of deprivation, as well as love neuroses? Would you take it? Furthermore, if this medicine was free, had no negative side-effects, caused no drowsiness, did not interact dangerously with other medications, was safe for children, and could be used despite pre-existing diseases of the heart and thyroid, high blood pressure and diabetes, would you use it?
Then, what if you discovered that the cure affected by one dose had measurable impact, and that by taking daily doses, like vitamins, you could keep the cure working?
Is there such a wonder drug? There certainly is. It is called thanksgiving. Being grateful. Giving thanks. When I was a younger woman, with four small children, a husband who was an inner-city pastor, and insufficient funds to manage all this, I decided that my gratitude aptitude was deficient. So I spent three months journaling only prayers of thanks—no requests for those three months, no “gimme-gimme-gimmies”—just a growing list of things God had done for me that I added to each day. The phrase “all good gifts come from God and from Him are all things given” has become a breath prayer, begun long ago, that I repeat over and over. I find myself whispering it in my soul almost unconsciously.
What are the results of developing this “attitude of gratitude”?
The systematic study of positive emotions within psychology only began in the year 2000 due to the fact that this field was mainly focused on the negative impacts of distress. Since then, scientific research has gathered evidence from controlled studies indicating that grateful people experience higher levels of well-being. They are happier, less depressed, less stressed (were you aware that an estimated 90% of health problems doctors see are stress-related?). Grateful people are more satisfied with their lives and social connections. They feel as though they have greater control of their environments, they are more intentional about personal growth, have more purpose in their lives, can reach out for support from other people when they need to do so, and when hit by negative circumstances they can reinterpret and learn from them (this is called resilience, a substantial indicator of emotional and psychological health).
The list of proven impacts from giving thanks goes on and on, and is so lengthy we will end here (except to mention studies indicate that grateful people sleep better!).
As a personal observation, I will testify that the impact of practicing gratefulness was so tremendous on my personality, lifting me from the default position of the icky catalog in the first paragraph, that I have practiced it since every time I turn to work in my prayer journal, which except for rare occasions, is daily. I generally find at least a dozen things I’m grateful for each day. But more than a dutiful practice of developing a helpful habit, I find that now, after decades, there is an inner joy of giving thanks that seems to be going on inside me all the time that I notice only when I turn my attention inward. Perhaps this is what writer David Steindl-Rast, in his bookGratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, meant when he said, “Prayer is grateful living.”
So if you are really having trouble “gettin’ thru the day,” try thanksgiving. That lovely Scripture from the Psalms is short and sweet, easy to remember; “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 106:1b, NIV.
In order for gratefulness to have lasting effects, however, you will have to make gratitude an attitude—it can’t just be a one time dose that you take. Even pharmaceuticals prescribed by doctors sometimes need a week or two to kick in before they have positive impact. Since it takes at least 30 days to break a bad habit as well as to make a good habit, begin by listing all the things you can find for which you are grateful. Try to add to your list every day. I promise, the practice of gratitude will help you defeat the demons that beset you.
Steindl-Rast talks about the person who does not believe in God. If you are in that category, please hear that gratefulness works for people like you just as it works for those who attempt to be devout believers. “Even people whose worldview does not include a divine Giver to whom their thanks can be directed often experience deep gratitude in those moments. They experience it no less strongly than others, even though their gratefulness gets mailed without an address, so to say. In any case, we know from experience that whenever we are truly awake and alive, we are also truly grateful.”
Gratefulness is a medicine that can help you make it through the days. And unlike sleeping pills, soporifics, it actually wakens the inner slumberer, the dormant sleeper, the inattentive snoozer missing the beauty in each moment and the meaning that is in all of living.
It is a medicine that, unlike some, goes down smoothly.
Other projects involving Karen Mains right now:
Karen Mains is part of an international team of men and women heading the Global Bag Project, a micro-finance enterprise for women who live in developing areas of the world. The idea is to sell reusable shopping bags, made by Third World bag-makers, to provide sustainable income for them. Visit www.GlobalBagProject.com if you are interested in learning more.
She and her husband, David, are hoping to lead a Christian trip to Kenya, Africa next March for the purpose of developing microenterprise projects.
Furthermore, Karen is creating a teleconference curriculum on “Personal Memoir Writing” to post on her Web site,www.KarenBurtonMains.com, in an attempt to create a distance learning mentor writing project to help other “Wannabe (Better) Writers” get published.