We started a new tradition this year during our Thanksgiving gathering. My niece made these beautiful little cards:
Everyone, all 27 of us, scratched out what we were thankful for. We then put them in a hat and reached in and took out someone’s thanks and read it. We guessed who they belonged to. It was a wonderfully fun thing to do and truly made us reflect on the good in our lives.
As part of my joy journey to joy I want to practice thankfulness and gratitude on a daily basis.
The book 1000 Gifts a Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are introduced me to the idea that thanksgiving is transformational. Perhaps I knew that already but Ann Voscamp’s chronicled journey into counting gifts was convicting and inspirational. But, somehow I’ve hesitated to jump in fully. It felt contrived and not from the heart, to just look at things and write them down. The heart didn’t feel particularly grateful. I think it needs to be more than just a list.
Somehow in making the list you have to be present to what you are giving thanks for. Be fully present to the gift.
(Mindfulness, being present, is another topic I’ll explore in the quest for joy.)
Robert Emmons has devoted his life work to studying gratitude and the effect it has on our well being. He’s written books and speaks on how to become and practice gratitude. Here is a post about 10 ways to become more grateful.
I don’t think, as Christians, we need to shy away from secular teachers. I find it fascinating that science confirms that giving thanks actually leads to happier, healthier people. Dr. Emmons is clear that gratitude is recognition for gifts received that are not necessarily merited.
The basis of the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that our salvation is an unmerited gift. That is our ultimate gift and the one we look forward to.
But there are gifts right now in this life all around us. Unmerited gifts waiting to be recognized and given thanks for.
In looking for things to be grateful for it can be tempting to be grateful for our personal accomplishments or to simply make comparisons about how we have more, stuff, success, money, than others. But this is not true gratitude.
In a study done by Emmons and McCullough the distinction was made that gratitude is not a comparison to others and what we have that they don’t. From a Psychology Today blog post:
Realizing that other people are worse off than you is not gratitude. Gratitude requires an appreciation of the positive aspects of your situation. It is not a comparison. Sometimes noticing what other people don’t have may help you see what you can be grateful for, but you have to take that next step. You actually have to show appreciation for what you have, for it to have an effect. ~Alex Korb
There are psychological and physiological affects from the practice of Gratitude. From the same article:
feelings of gratitude directly activated brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine.
So once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for. That’s how the virtuous cycle gets created.
A cycle of gratitude. I’m hoping this will be true as I start the practice of finding gifts. Everyday listing gifts, the small the big, inside, out side, people, nature. All is a gift and I want to appreciate them and be present to them, and be fully present to the greatest gift; God.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11
Would you like to start giving thanks and practicing gratitude? Here are a number of resources to help you.
track n share tracks more than just gratitude, health, food, pain and more
Tips to giving thanks:
And the beginnings of my list:
See the Gift, Record the Gift, Apprehend the Gift of Joy