Practicing Gratitude

When challenging situations confront us, it is normal––even healthy––to name our difficulty, loss, and grief. It is equally important that we also count our blessings, to evoke an old adage. Counting blessings, or naming the good and beautiful things in our lives, is practicing gratitude. Gratitude can help us cope with very difficult circumstances. It can help us stay grounded, though the earth beneath us may shake––and shake it has under the weight of the COVID-19 outbreak.


Robert Emmons, a scientific expert on gratitude, says that first, gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.” Second, gratitude is recognizing that many of the good things we have received have come from others. Other people and things have given us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.” Third, gratitude is an emotion that strengthens our relationships because it helps us to see how we’ve been affirmed and supported by other people. No one can do life alone. Nearly every good thing in our lives has been shaped in some way by other people.


Emmons and his research team studied over one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude regularly report increased well-being. For example, grateful people tend to have stronger immune systems, a higher self-esteem, less stress, and higher levels of positive emotions. They also tend to be aware and alert, as well as helpful, generous, and compassionate.


So, let’s pause together, and be in this moment. Think about the good things in your life, the things that bring you joy and comfort. Perhaps these are things that make your life easier––things done or created by others––that you have taken for granted. 


Sometime this week, consider doing a short gratitude meditation as a family. The Greater Good Science Center has produced a soothing 10-minute meditation aimed at helping participants surface a variety of ways their lives have been touched by the goodness, generosity, and ingenuity of others. From health caregivers to postal service workers, from electricity to indoor plumbing, from farmers who grow tomatoes to bakers who furnish us with sweet treats––there are many for whom we can be thankful. Call your family together. Have everyone sit somewhere comfortable. Invite them to be silent. Then, just visit this link and click play.


Consider asking each member of your family to keep a gratitude journal for at least a week. A journal will allow you to practice the discipline of pausing each evening to write down at least one thing you are grateful for. Perhaps over dinner each night, each member of your family can take turns sharing what they wrote about that day. If you miss a day don’t beat yourself up, just try again the next day. Aim for consistency. The organization Friendzy has put together a weekly journal template for each age group. Please visit this link to download the right ones for your family.


If you or a family member runs into what we might call “gratitude block,” don’t despair. Much like when experiencing writer’s block, you can turn to other people’s reflections for inspiration. In a recent video, Kid President details 25 reasons to be thankful. Watch him discuss his list; then be inspired to identify your own list.


Back in the late 1800s, a German sociologist by the name of Georg Simmel called gratitude “the moral memory of mankind.” He meant that gratitude was linked to compassion in that it encourages us not only to appreciate our gifts but also to repay them––or pay them forward. Compassion borne of gratitude may lead us to thank those who have done so much for us. Compassion might also lead us to help remove barriers to others receiving gifts like the ones we enjoy and all-too-often take for granted. Unfairness in the world prevents some people from experiencing all of the gifts that we do. This is where service and activism begin. Be sure to participate in the Demonstrations of Gratitude service opportunity as part of the Friends Seminary Community Taking Care Initiative. 


We imagine that as you are reflecting on what or who you are grateful for, the names and faces of friends and loved ones will come to mind. We encourage you to write them an email, text message, or a good ole-fashioned print letter of gratitude and mail it. Be specific. Share how they have impacted you and made your life better. As you practice gratitude each day, with the ones you love, you will help to create an unbroken circle of thanksgiving and service to one another. Thank you in advance for participating in these gratitude activities! 


“There is no joy without gratitude.”

- Brene Brown