November 20, 2017
In the past weeks I have discussed the phenomenon of gratitude, and provided evidence that practicing gratitude leads to sharper mental focus, a reduction of stress levels, and increased motivation. Research about gratitude has expanded in recent years. But some may ask how can I practice gratitude? There are several ways of practicing gratitude. These practices invite the person to stop and notice their blessings. Not only notice their blessings but to savor their blessings and share their blessings with others. Martin Luther was a man who pondered blessings in the light of the changing culture of the reformation. In a sermon from 1538 about gratitude he addressed the blessing of eyesight, he asked “who are those who have fine eyesight for fifty years and out of their hearts rejoice this great miracle?” Luther, in this passage, asked an introspective question, a question that spoke to something that many people might take for granted, yet he shed light on the importance of eyesight. Luther, further remarked “each person has two eyes, for these gifts we ought to rejoice.” I offer the following suggestions to deepen your rejoicing as you practice gratitude.
Gratitude Journal: One way to keep a gratitude journal is to record 3-5 specific blessings on a weekly or daily basis. According to researchers it is more effective to focus on gratitude for people rather than material objects. John Gottman, shares that to be truly appreciative it is important to focus on the qualities and characteristics of the individual. Thus it would be important to say, “I really appreciated your thoughtfulness and perceptiveness, and you really came through for me when I needed help.” Merely, saying “good job” or “you’re awesome” is vague and is a positive judgment. Hearing positive and negative judgments creates a sense of being good or bad. Children and adults internalize these vague messages that are implied judgment. According to Kristin Neff, these elusive and non-specific messages are linked to low self esteem and self-judgment, and in some cases narcissism and ego-centricity. A gratitude journal that acknowledges specifics allows us to better savor our blessings and be more readily open to possibilities that were previously unknown.
Gratitude Letter: One can write a specific letter to a person and thank them in a more formal way for their positive influences. Again, to write the specific things that the person has done demonstrates thoughtfulness and contemplation. Researchers believe that writing a gratitude letter and receiving a gratitude letter increases the sense of joy for both the sender and the receiver. I recommend writing a hand written note and sending it through the postal service. Receiving a card or handwritten is a tangible evidence of gratitude. Besides, who wouldn’t want to receive something in the mail rather than a bill or junk mail?
Gratitude Conversation: The practice is to have an intentional conversation with others about positive events and daily events. When we acknowledge blessings with others, social bonds are strengthened and reinforced. In our world of instant messaging, social media, and isolation, having a gratitude conversation is one way to strengthen relationships, and to combat social anxiety.
State of Preparedness: The Boy Scout Motto is to “Be Prepared!” Being prepared is a proactive choice. When we are prepared fear and anxiety subside. If one chooses a State of Preparedness with gratitude, one examines personal attitudes about life, school, work, relationships, and spirituality with openness and candidness. This practice asks people to determine if they are anchored with gratitude and to deliberately choose gratitude over anger, hurt, fear, and resentment.
Choice Points: According to Dr Avants and Dr. Margolin, from the Yale University School of Medicine, a person could choose a cue or an activity, such as the ringing of a telephone that will be a cue to stop and refocus on gratitude. This Choice Point allows one to re-evaluate their situation and gives an opportunity to change thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The more frequently one checks in with oneself, the more awareness one will have of where the mind is wandering. More awareness brings more choice and empowerment. Imagine receiving a cue several times a day that would redirect you towards gratitude. How would that shift your perspective?
I have outlined the benefits of practicing gratitude and ways to practice gratitude. If you wrote down three things a day for which you were grateful, by Thanksgiving 2018, you would have practiced gratitude 1,095 times, if you wrote down five blessings per day you would have practiced gratitude 1,825 times in the next year. How could practicing gratitude change your life in the next week, the next month, and the next year? Happy Thanksgiving and may you find many things to be grateful for.
Questions for Reflection:
What are daily cues that I could use to redirect my thoughts towards gratitude?
With whom could I have a Gratitude Conversation?
What five things am I grateful for right now?
How can I become more resilient through gratitude?
Who is someone that I have not adequately thanked that I could send a heartfelt letter of gratitude?
For further reflection:
Here is a poem entitled “i thank you God for most this amazing day” by e. e. cummings. I have included a link of the poet reciting his poem, and a link of the choral piece by Eric Whitacre who set this text to music.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axH9A28CTjw (e. e. cummings reads his poem)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMbSY7b0fuM (The Stanford Chamber Chorale and the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, under the direction of Stephen Layton, perform "i thank You God for most this amazing day" by American composer Eric Whitacre (b. 1970).
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
R. David Johns has a PhD in Counseling Education and Supervision, and a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Licensed Addiction Counselor (LAC) in the state of Colorado. As a counselor and therapist he works with people to better understand the flow of gratitude throughout their life. For an appointment call 303-642-6636 or email at [email protected]
Avants, S. K., & Margolin, A. (2003). Spiritual Self Schemata Therapy. Retrieved from http://info.med.yale.edu/psych/3s/about.html (retrieved March 1, 2010)
Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York, NY: Harmony Books.
Luther, M. (2012). Sermon on the twelfth Sunday after trinity (1538). Lutheran Forum 46(1), 34-35.
Neff, K. D. (2009). The role of self-compassion in development: A healthier way to relate to oneself. Human development, 52(4), 211-214.
Wilson, J. T. (2016). Brightening the mind: The impact of practicing gratitude on focus and resilience in learning. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(4), 1-13.