By Catherine Carstarphen, M.A., M.Div., D.Min
Chair, Integrative Health Treatment Team
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them ~ John F. Kennedy
Psychologists have discovered what the world’s religions have always known, that gratitude, a feeling or attitude of thankfulness, can change your life.
Studies have shown (Emmons and McCullough, 2003) that engaging in short gratitude exercises, like writing letters of thanks and keeping a gratitude diary can facilitate a range of benefits. Increased well-being and reduced depression often remain long after exercises or tasks are finished.
A brain-scanning study in the medical journal NeuroImage explains why months after these tasks, people’s brains are still wired to feel thankful. Gratitude tasks have a self-perpetuating nature: the more one practices gratitude, the more attuned you become to it’s benefits for wholeness and well-being.
Another example of “active” gratitude are the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous where gratitude is practiced throughout the stages of the program resulting in the significant final step where the participant has a spiritual awakening and has the opportunity to give back to others.
The virtues of gratitude are also reflected in many cultures. For instance, ON is a Japanese word that expresses a sense of gratitude combined with a desire to give back to the community. This desire arises from us when we recognize how we have been supported and cared for by others.
Gratitude not only elicits a sense of thankfulness, but a feeling to return the kindness. Gratitude is inspired by feelings of thankfulness towards another person, nature or God. Someone who is grateful tends to be observant and is aware of what has been given. This awareness may invoke a reciprocal gesture.
In conclusion, grateful people are more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to and responsibility to others. Practicing gratitude, beginning in childhood, may result in positive attitudes, greater compassion, resilience and well-being.