November 23, 2011
Feeling Gratitude in the Wake of Hard Times
With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, our thoughts turn to Black Friday, football and overeating. While it's tough to compete, if we can put those concerns aside for a moment, I'd like to take a few minutes and talk about the deeper meaning of our fall feast and the importance of feeling gratitude in our lives. Research has shown that the more folks are able to be thankful, the happier, healthier and more energetic they are. Besides the practical benefits, giving thanks is a deeply spiritual experience which helps connect us with our deeper purpose and reminds us of what is really important in life.
Unfortunately, we don't see a lot of gratitude being expressed in the media lately. Many may not feel grateful because their lives have been bruised or worse by the bad economy. Nonetheless, I believe that the joy expressed in the original Pilgrim Thanksgiving is relevant for us all. Today we're going to tell you how you can both deepen your experience of thanksgiving and express appreciation for your lives and your loved ones.
What is gratitude and how do we lose it ?
The feeling of gratitude is a powerful sense of appreciative awe that results from realizing that, in spite of the many difficulties and risks, life is filled with wonderful moments of joy and love. Often the inability to experience sincere gratitude is a sign that one's perspective on life is out of kilter. For some, life has become common place and is taken for granted. Good things are just expected to happen while the thought or failure or pain is ignored. For others, the opposite extreme is true. Life is dominated by loss and trauma and the possibility of real joy seems remote and positive experiences are overlooked or discounted.
A balanced and grateful perspective, while acknowledging the reality of tragedy, is not dominated by it and, thus, is able to celebrate the reality of goodness in life. Gratitude is the enthusiastic joy that comes from experiencing happiness and fulfillment in the midst of risk and danger. Gratitude is also a humble acknowledgement that we need one another and that no one can make it alone. Likewise our perspective can become too narrowly focused so that we can't see the good things which are outside our view. Stepping back to get a more panoramic perspective can really changes the way things look.
Giving thanks is not simply an emotional expression. It is also a spiritual affirmation of life itself ;an affirmation of of hope over despair and an affirmation of good over evil. We give thanks not simply for the good moments but for the belief that life itself is good.
There is a common misconception that either you feel gratitude or you don't. There is nothing you can do about it. In fact there are many things that can help. If you're having trouble getting into the holiday spirit, here are some suggestions to try.
5 Tips to Regain Perspective and Deepen your Sense of Gratitude.
1. Make gratitude a priority
-- Make a commitment not take the good things in life for granted.
-- Decide not to lose sight of or minimize the positives in your life.
2. Regain a balanced perspective
-- Reality test your perspective on life. Ask yourself, "Is my perspective out of balance?" Do I take the good things in life for granted or, on the other hand, am I stuck in negativity? If so, make a correction.
-- Be careful with the negatives. It is so easy to focus on the negative. Watch out for persons, placesand things that are overly negative and make sure they are not pulling you down. If necessary, limit your exposure.
3. Count your blessing. Literally.
-- Keep a gratitude journal or take time at least once a week to write down and make a list of the good moments in your life. Be specific: the people, dates, places and descriptions.
-- Take time to review and keep track of the specific acts and events of kindness you have experienced and received on a regular basis. Don't wait for holidays. With practice, gratitude can become a positive habit.
4. Remember the Past:
-- Celebrate holidays as an opportunity to give thanks.
-- Look at old photos and videos and talk about the cherished memories they bring to mind.
-- Re-tell the great stories and moments that you treasure with family and friends.
5. Express your gratitude. Don't just think or talk about gratitude to yourself. Do something.
-- Tell those who you are thankful for and the things they have done directly.
-- Write a letter. (I'm not sure if IM or text messages really count.)
-- Send a gift.
Sharing your joy and gratitude increases it for you as well for the person you tell.
The Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC prepared these remark for Bridge Street 11 23 2011.