As Thanksgiving Day approaches, my thoughts turn toward the practice of gratitude. Giving thanks on this day is certainly appropriate; I wouldn’t want to go through life without acknowledging the blessings of my life—and there are many.
But gratitude is about more than something I do on Thanksgiving Day. According to University of California-Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, gratitude is a way of life, and those who incorporate this practice into their daily lives receive great benefits. He recommends keeping a gratitude journal or learning prayers of gratitude as a regular practice. Those who do, he says, are found to exercise more consistently, get fewer episodes of illness, and feel better about their lives.
Emmons warns, however, that gratitude is not an easy, superficial endeavor:
“Far from being a warm, fuzzy sentiment, gratitude is morally and intellectually demanding. It requires contemplation, reflection and discipline. It can be hard and painful work.”
In my view, these are wise words indeed! Gratitude doesn’t mean that I cursorily “give a nod” to a few blessings that come to mind. Such a feeble effort can be a cop-out, so to speak, from the harder work of gratitude, which is to open my heart and vision to the deeper blessings that may go unnoticed.
Here’s an example:
I recently took up running again. I’m grateful to have a form of exercise that I enjoy. But if I take more time to reflect, I become conscious of further blessings:
- · Health and mobility
- · Doctors who have helped keep me healthy
- · Recovery from painful knees
- · Those who believed in and encouraged me
- · Inner healing that comes with releasing stress
- · Connecting with nature
- · Sheer joy that accompanies other activities long after I’ve finished my run for the day
Expressing gratitude does not mean negating the hardships of life. Deceiving ourselves about what has hurt or wounded us does not promote health. Honesty promotes health, and we can hold our brokenness and wholeness in loving tension, grateful for whatever goodness emerges from both. Sometimes, for me, this truly is a discipline!
Maybe one of the gifts of this Thanksgiving is a reminder not to just be grateful but to practice gratitude each and every day. It’s a practice that’s a blessing in itself!