This year marks the 150th anniversary of the national holiday of thanksgiving. Everyone knows it hearkens back to the pilgrims and Native Americans, but it wasn’t officially deemed a holiday until President Lincoln enacted it at a time when many had little to be thankful for. Lincoln called for this public day of thanksgiving when the civil war was in full swing and wouldn’t end for another year and a half. It was actually brought to the public by Lincoln after the exhausting and tragic victory over the south at Gettysburg. Psychologically, it was a brilliant move on Lincoln’s part. You see, at that moment the country was at risk of sinking into total demoralization and discouragement. Our young country was in the fight of its life. It was at that moment when pausing to give thanks was the most counterintuitive, but the most necessary to survival. The most important battle to be won is for the heart and soul. It provides the strength and power to face adversity and overcome it. This is what thanksgiving does for us!
Robert Emmons author of “Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier” defines gratitude as the recognition that one has received a gift or benefit of personal gain. Gratitude really is an attitude, which is a mixture of thoughts and feelings, towards life that includes humility, thankfulness, and mindfulness of personal blessings. When this attitude is nurtured and encouraged, the grateful person experiences several strong effects. Some people feel the “heart warming” or a lightening of the spirit. There are more powerful and meaningful benefits than these, however.
People who practice the “attitude of gratitude” find that they are more content with their life circumstance than they were before being actively grateful. There is an increase in satisfaction with material goods, with health, and even with relationships. Mr. Emmons reflects in his book that gratitude, then, is a “firewall” to the constant barrage of advertisements and images that fuel the fire of discontent in our society. In this regard, gratitude is a way of saying and admitting “I have enough, thank you.” Research has shown that people who regularly practice thankfulness on average report a 25% increase in overall happiness. Mr. Emmons asserts that just keeping a “gratitude journal” for three weeks will result in better sleep and more energy. Furthermore, such benefits are shown to last for several months!
Tony Robbins, a world famous motivational author and speaker, also touts the benefits of a thankful attitude. He states that it is very difficult to be anxious or depressed when focusing on giving thanks. Try it and see for yourself that this is true. In Tony’s presentation called “Hour of Power,” he gives specific instructions on how to effectively practice daily gratitude.
First, he advises you to get up and get moving. Take a walk, and if you can’t do that at least do some stretches and move what you can move. Secondly, teaches that while moving you start thinking of all the things you can be grateful for in your life from the inside out. Starting with yourself, identify what you are thankful for in your self; what skills, passions, emotions, thoughts, and physical features are you thankful for? Next, focus on your loved ones (both family and friends), and what they bring to your life for which you are grateful.
Following this, focus on how you are grateful for your work and what you do, then on moments or events you have experienced in your past that you are thankful about. Then, think about what you want, your hopes and dreams for the future, and be thankful for this source of hope and expectations. Finally, think about today and what you are thankful for specifically in this present day. Think of today as a present. What will you do with it? How do you want to feel today?
Some readers may dismiss this science of gratitude as unrealistic or “positive psychology” nonsense. Some believe this is just a denial of problems and in that sense its like the three monkeys that see, hear, or say no evil. Please try to see this instead as a rebalancing of perspective. Too much of the time, we are focused on everything that is wrong in our lives and everything that is bothering us. This only leaves room in our hearts for dissatisfaction and discouragement. When we allow ourselves to focus on gratitude, it doesn’t erase the problems that continue to exist. What being thankful does is provide some balance, so that we can see the good that is there and appreciate it. Nothing has really changed, but everything is different.
As you enter this holiday season, allow yourself to practice the attitude of gratitude. Chances are that if you do, you will feel better and act better. In conclusion, here are some quotes about giving thanks:
You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.
~ Charles Haddon Spurgeon
God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say “thank you?”
~ William A. Ward
Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action. ~W.J. Cameron
Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day.
~Robert Caspar Lintner