Tell the muscles in your face to create a smile. Send the message to your nerves to move your lips, and as a side effect, as you fake that tooth-showing grin, your mood changes. It doesn’t happen if you grimace instead of smile, but make yourself physically smile and there’s an emotional connection.
Research shows that gratitude is a powerful spiritual discipline, and an important factor in creating personal resilience. Gratitude transforms relationships, including our relationship with ourselves, with our Creator, and with those with whom we share our lives.
Gratitude is a choice. Gratitude, giving thanks, is not the same thing as denial, refusing to acknowledge that there is evil in the world, people who have done us harm, or societal ills. Thankfulness does not equal turning a blind eye on what’s wrong.Gratitude is not a game of “let’s pretend”.
Gratitude is the spiritual discipline of turning our attention away from what wears us down, and either finding or remembering what gives us life, where and when we have received love or glimpsed hope, and looking at the world around us in an alternative way.
We choose where we focus our thoughts. Our brains use their autonomic functioning to that we breathe without consciously telling our lungs to expand, our hearts beats without our telling them “Beat, beat, beat” every second or so. that’s automatic.
But we train our brains how to think, where to focus; we send a message to our mind about what matters to us, and when we give thanks, when we make gratitude lists, we are training our brains to recognize that there is good in the world, and that our negative thoughts and emotional filter that screens out the positive aspects of our existence.
When we take the next step and say “thank you” to a food server, a customer, our parents, the bus driver, our nurse, our doctor, a sales associate, to your child, or to anyone at all, we acknowledge that person as valuable, that we appreciate them, and that we are not just using them as we use a screwdriver or laptop: our gratitude treats them with the dignity they deserve.
Make your gratitude list. Today was Thanksgiving here in the United States, the perfect opportunity to think of things, people, experiences,, realities fr which we are thankful. By making that list, we are rewireng our brains. PET studies show that gratitude changes our brain function, as making yourself smile changes your mood.*
Sometimes things are tough, such as they are here in the United States with the turmoil of an election, the devastation of racist violence, and the Covid-19 pandemic leaving emotional exhaustion, along with death and illness, all around the world.. Things are tough. And they may be harsh for you on a personal level. So it may be difficult or impossible for you to create a list.
But I encourage you to try. Interestingly, the mere effort of trying to find something to be grateful for. Even if you come up empty, with just the words “Gratitude List” written on your page, the changes happen in your brain.**
So it turns out that the scourge of your childhood, writing thank you-notes, is a valuable spiritual practice. And those magic words, “please” and “thank you”, really are magic.
Thank you for reading this blog, and thank you for joining me as I move through this Big, Hairy Audacious Month, and thank you for what you’re doing to make the world a better place.
Today’s Prayer Poem:
"Holding on to Gratitude" by Dietra Reid Swirling waters of turbulent events surround you in the ocean of life. There is a spot of light beckoning thru the clouds. It is the gift of gratitude. My arms though weak, reach for this as if it is a life preserver. And in a way it is, for me. As I pull it close to me, the essence of it warms my soul. For ancient years, salt preserved the value of meat against decay. but what will thankfulness prevent? The rotting away of joy, wonder and hope because of the misery of the storms in the waiting for rescue. It is the rescue. Grace and peace to you! and Thank you! Caroline
*Fletcher, Emily. contributor. Huffpost, updated article on December 6, 2017: “The Neuroscience of Gratitude.”
**Brooks, Arthur C. New York Times Sunday Review, “Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier.” Nov 21, 2015.