Does Gratitude Help?

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others”
-Cicero, 420 AD

Recently one of my friends told me about a book called Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Dr. Robert Emmons. It’s a fascinating book that shows his very poignant research findings which are relevant for all of us who are struggling with financial issues, parenting challenges, and everyday trials and tribulations. Dr. Emmons stated that at first he thought gratitude was a simplistic emotion, but he discovered in fact that it is a very complex phenomenon that can measurably change people’s lives.

His research showed that people who practice gratitude are more successful and cope more effectively with everyday stress, show more resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, and recover more quickly from illness.

Young woman sitting on a rock

The practice helps people to become more prosocial because it binds them together in relationships of reciprocity and is one of the building blocks of our family and a humane society. People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have less envy and have more capacity to take the perspective of others. They place less importance on material goods; they are less likely to judge their own and the success of others in terms of possessions accumulated; and they are more likely to share their possessions with others.

Deer and squirrel sharing food off a table

Here are the first five of ten evidence based recommendations for becoming more grateful as researched by Dr. Emmons. I have steered these toward parenting issues.

  1. Keep a gratitude journal. Establish a daily routine in which you remind yourself of the good things about your family and children. Set aside time to recall moments of gratitude associated with ordinary family events. My recommendation is to start the day with gratitude. When you get up in the morning, take a few minutes to write down at least 3 things which you may take for granted when compared to many others in the world who may not even have a roof over their head or three square meals a day.At bedtime you can read a book that is totally inspiring. There are so many, but All Will Be Well and Surprised by Joy, are two books by Michael Meegan that immediately generate an attitude of gratitude! While you lie in bed before you go off to sleep, take ten minutes to review your day and focus on all the things you are thankful for. By doing this, you will more likely to have a peaceful sleep and good dreams.
  2. Remember the bad not just the good. You could look back and see how far you have come as a parent and how much more skilled and knowledgeable you are when you compare yourself to what you were at the beginning of your journey.
  3. Ask yourself three questions:
    1. What have I received from ___?
    2. What have I given to ____?
    3. What troubles and difficulty have I caused to ___________?

    This actually comes from a meditation technique called Naikan (literal translation “inside looking”) developed by Yoshimoto Ishin (1916-1988) to help people understand themselves and their relationships.

  4. Learn prayers of gratitude. Prayers of gratitude are considered to be the most powerful form of prayer. Emmons suggests reading the prayers/poems of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I have had the privilege of going to retreats at his monastery in France called Plum Village. This is one of my favourite prayers entitled Good News (from his book Call Me by My True Names) and a great one to read to your child:

    The good news

    They do not print.

    The good news

    We do print.

    We have a special edition every moment,

    And we need you to read it.

    The good news is that you are alive,

    That the linden tree is still there,

    Standing firm in the harsh Winter.

    The good news is that you have wonderful eyes

    To touch the blue sky.

    The good news is that your child is there before you,

    And your arms are available:

    Hugging is possible.

    A Flower

    They only print what is wrong.

    Look at each of our special editions.

    We always offer the things that are not wrong.

    We want you to benefit from them

    And help protect them.

    The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,

    Smiling its wondrous smile,

    Singing the song of eternity.

    Listen! You have ears that can hear it.

    Bow your head.

    Listen to it.

    Leave behind the world of sorrow

    and preoccupation.

    And get free.

    The latest good news.

    My own family background is one of a strong Christian tradition. My grandfather was a preacher and he and my father, who recently passed away, loved to sing songs of praise and gratitude. At dinner time we would hold hands and sing songs as a way of saying grace. I found this hymn by Thomas Ken (1637-1711) in the Manu­al of Prayers for the Use of the Schol­ars of Winchester College, 1674. I have included just a few of the verses that are relevant to setting the tone of the day with gratitude in the morning when you arise. The last verse is what we sang around the dinner table for years.

    Awake My Soul and With the Sun

    Thy precious time misspent, redeem,

    Each present day thy last esteem,

    Improve thy talent with due care;

    For the great day thyself prepare.

    By influence of the Light divine

    Let thy own light to others shine.

    Reflect all Heaven’s propitious ways

    In ardent love, and cheerful praise.

    In conversation be sincere;

    Keep conscience as the noontide clear;

    Think how all seeing God thy ways

    And all thy secret thoughts surveys.

    Direct, control, suggest, this day,

    All I design, or do, or say,

    That all my powers, with all their might,

    In Thy sole glory may unite.

    Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;

    Praise Him, all creatures here below;

    Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;

    Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

  5. Come to your senses. Through your senses: smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing, you gain an appreciation of the many miracles in life. Breathing exercises such as pranayama can help you to focus your mind better and increase mindfulness. The Art of Living Part I is an introductory course that teaches a unique and powerful breathing practice called the Sudarshan Kriya. which was developed by the founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. There is also the ART Excel Programme for children from 8-14 years of age, and involves elements of breathing, meditation and yoga and the teaching of core human values such as trust, respect, cooperation, sharing, and compassion through fun team games and problem-solving activities. It is led by a team of committed teachers in the UK and other parts of the world.

I sincerely encourage you to practice at least one of these 5 tips above, and I guarantee it will bring more happiness into your life everyday! I look forward to connecting with you next week, when I will share the final 5 of Dr. Emmons’ ten evidence-based strategies.

Thanks for taking the time to read this Monday’s Motivational article.

Please feel free to send me any comments or your own stories you wish to share, or post them on this site by leaving a comment below.

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