This is Thanksgiving week here in the U.S. of A. It is a celebration of the harvest and the bounty that the new land provided to settlers from Britain. For a few days back in the 1700’s, they even honored their hosts (you know, the folks that were living here before them). Turns out that showing gratitude is good for your health. I watched a TED talk the other day and some guy was going on about the “3 gratitudes” and this morning on NPR (sorry Fox) I heard them citing the research on gratitude and health again.
It always amazes me when someone puts a new spin on old knowledge and calls it a breakthrough. NEWSFLASH! Being happy is good for your health (both mental and physical). If this surprises you, then it is quite likely that you are an unhappy person. Also, probably not particularly healthy. Stress is bad for your health too. So, is there a cause and effect relationship here? Does reduced stress make you happier or does increased happiness make you less stressed out? Maybe they’re just two peas in the same pod.
So, what’s so special about gratitude? Maybe not getting everything you want is stressful. Maybe that stress reduces your happiness. Maybe being less happy limits the resources you have to achieve your goals. This is what some would call a self-reinforcing negative spiral. These are never fun for the people having them, so the trick is to find some way to break out of them before it goes too far down.
Gratitude shifts the focus to the things you do have. Here’s a little thought exercise for you. Close your eyes and imagine that you are dressed in a few rags. You haven’t had anything to eat in three days. You have had to drink dirty water and now you are sick. It is winter and you have no place to stay. You are lost, broke and you don’t know anybody. Somebody comes by and offers you a dry stale piece of bread. Are you grateful? Damn skippy, you are!
Now, take this lost, lonely, destitute, sick, hungry and homeless you and compare that situation to yours. If your life is even close to as good as mine, it would take you days to list all the things you’ve got going on. The “3 gratitude” idea recommends doing a few every day and spread them out so that you can continually derive the benefit of this realization.
Frankly, I think it’s just a clever gimmick. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great idea to be grateful for what you have. If this little mental trick helps you get to a state of gratitude for what you have then go for it. Some of us just know how lucky we are...to have money, people who love us, food, shelter, health.
If you didn’t get that new Maserati that you really wanted, be content with the Corvette. Some people work so hard to get the extrinsic rewards that they think will bring them happiness that they don’t even notice all the things that they already have that were supposed to make them happy. You know what I call people who require “more” to make them happy? Losers! “More” is another self-reinforcing negative spiral. Try “enough” for a change.
Be thankful for everything that life has already given you. The joy of contentment can be part of a self-reinforcing positive spiral. You might just find that you get some of those things you were stressing about -- without the stress. Wherever you are in the world, have a happy thanks-for-giving day.