The feeling of gratitude, according to the folks at “Psychology Today,” contrasts with our consumer-oriented impulse, by emphasizing what we have versus what we want. I read this after the Gray Thursday, Black Friday, Cyber Monday weekend. My interest was piqued by the number of Facebook friends who were doing daily “gratitude journals” on their daily updates throughout the month of November.
Natural wonders are highly appreciated in these daily posts, especially sunrises and sunsets seen across Lake Harriet. Photos often accompany the posts, which render the words unnecessary. A good cup of coffee also ranks high. I’m on board with appreciation for both of these modest miracles.
Following nature, family takes over as the top category of gratefulness. I believe it is second to nature only because, for most it’s more difficult to describe, harder to photograph and much more deeply personal. In this season of gratitude, which I define as from the Thanksgiving table to the change of the year, family (I have a very inclusive definition of family) is the focus. Many of our friends are so fortunate and grateful — this is especially true during the holidays when their almost-adult children come home from far away colleges. I needed no more to be thankful for in November, after our daughter arrived for a week.
Studies show that our reflections on gratitude make us happier. It shifts our focus from what we don’t have to what we do. The glass is always half full, never half empty. Life is not about things — I know that’s hard to believe when I have a house filled with things. Another Facebook friend commented on the irony of having a Container Store. Where else in the consuming world do we buy from a store that’s in business to sell empty containers!?
For me, gratitude is more than a feeling; it is motivation for what we do in the world. We learn what we truly value and, in doing so, we may see others more generously. I learn gratitude in many places and from the people I meet who have fewer things and creature comforts. In the monthly service projects of Service Works, I have the wonderful opportunity of meeting people who live outside my daily path. Overall, they have fewer things, sometimes including a regular place to sleep. Their gratitude journals may include finding that warm bed to sleep in most nights or a home-made meal to eat in a loving environment.
Then I take trips of teens and adults to Tanzania to work and visit the village of Bassodawish, I see kids who each day walk miles to go to school. They are grateful for the school and the books we help buy for the schools. The Village Council is grateful for our visits. But it’s our gratitude bucket that is filled the most after being in the village for a few short days helping with projects they’ve selected. My heart fills with admiration and humility as we come to know these people, who make do with so much less in our consumer eyes, but are a loving, concerned, connected community.
Writing down the things we are grateful for increases our happiness, creativity, and immune system according to one of the experts in the field. Wow. I’ve got to tell my doctor — who would understand and agree immediately. (I’m also grateful to have a wonderful family physician!)
So, what’s on my short list? Family first and foremost — Hannah, Dan, and always Julia. Then? Community — how would I survive without all of you! Next? This beautiful neighborhood and city. Always? Love, the ability to love and be loved. And? Freedom — to vote, to travel, to speak freely, to love anyone I choose. What more could I want?
For your health and happiness, consider noting each day one thing you appreciate in your life. This small act just may make you happier and healthier.
I’ll start. I am filled with gratitude for each of you who reads my words. Your turn.
Welcome Jerde lives in Lynnhurst.