Be Grateful. Really?

by Cyndy Edwards

Recently, prompted by an online course, I initiated an email gratitude journal with a few friends. The only expectation is that we share what we feel thankful for on that day. Why a shared journal? I wanted, nay, needed that accountability & wanted the social connection.  Why gratitude? Do you want to feel happier? Practice gratitude. Do you want to experience more joyfulness in your life? Be grateful. There’s a ton of research showing the benefits of both the recognition and sharing of thankfulness. Practicing gratitude supports us is just about every way. I could quote Robert Emmons (leading scientific gratitude expert) and others, but I’d rather share a story.

Many years ago when I was just beginning to attend yoga classes regularly, the teacher would periodically encourage us to “count our blessings” or “bring to mind the people we feel grateful or thankful for” and I would draw a total blank. Nothing and no one came to mind. I did not see blessings in my day-to-day responsibilities nor did I feel thankful for the people most often around me. Yoga was my escape.

Yoga class was the one place I didn’t have to think about the rest of my messy life. All I had to think about was where to put my right – or was it my left – foot or hand and notice my breath. I liked filling my tired, run-amuk mind with the awareness of breathing in and breathing out – and nothing else. I liked noticing that I could put my body into shape after shape with strange-sounding names and feel better, even good at the end. I liked not thinking about anything outside the four walls of the class. I had no notion what there was for me to give thanks. It never occurred to me to count being in class as a blessing or to be grateful for the teacher leading the class. 

Much, much later I stumbled across an article. A short reading that talked about how simply acknowledging what you receive each day is practicing gratitude. That blessings could be and might most often be the little good things that come your way. Something as simple as the dog doing his business outside. The car making it possible to get to work and home, to the store and home, to yoga class. That the driver who waves you on or the smile of the cashier or the teacher remembering your name were people to be thankful of. Little things.

In an essay titled “Why Gratitude is Good” in the Greater Good Magazine, Robert Emmons notes two components in his definition. Gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness” and recognizing “the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves”.  Emmons also lists four reasons gratitude is positively transformative: Grateful people are more resilient in response to stress and sense of personal value as well as celebrating the good moment to moment which blocks negativity. All of this combines to make us healthier and happier people.

So, why share gratitude via email? To affirm the goodness, big and small, of being alive recognizing that we’re not here alone, but in unity with others. How yogic is that? 

Be Grateful. Really?