5 benefits of gratitude
Back in May 2015, just six months after my husband, Gary, died of cancer, I was single grandma to three grandkids while Daughter Summer and SIL Josh were in Uganda in the process of doubling the number of their children.
On one particular day, I journaled about being exhausted. And not just because I had been up at 5:30am to get The Boy to school for an all-day field trip; and not because I was in charge of getting Black Belt Girl to work-outs and competitions; and not because the Twirling Princess couldn’t find her shoes for dance class.
It was because I was in Week Four of single parenting:
“Who left this dried-up bowl of oatmeal here? Do I look like the maid?”
“What are you still doing up?!”
“What are you still doing in bed?!”
“Find a shovel and clean up this dog poop.”
“Get back here and finish your homework.”
Sisterly love, or the beginnings of a choke hold? Hmmm.
The occasional disciplinary action was necessary: Privileges removed, electronic devices confiscated. None of which made me the Most Popular Adult.
I wanted to go back to being their grandma. I wanted The Parents to be the bad guys. Wah.
In the middle of those weeks, I read this thought from Melody Beattie:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.
What I had at the time was life without Gary. What I had was no helpmate to share the grave responsibility of caring for three irreplaceable children.
But I also had three grandkids who loved me and were generally well-behaved. I had a family unit of which I was an important part. I had adult children in the process of bringing three Ugandan brothers home to a house filled with love.
Photo: Doug Oines — December 2016
And so, 5 benefits of a grateful life:
1. Better health. A growing body of research concludes that giving thanks is good for our psychological, emotional and physical well-being. According to a May 2017 Today article, being thankful brings a better sense of well-being; it can boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, and facilitate more efficient sleep. Apparently it’s also a natural anti-depressant, and having a daily ‘gratitude practice’ could actually reduce the effects of aging to the brain.
2. A change of focus. Cancer taught Gary and me instead of focusing on all that was lost, to count what remained. And there was much that remained: Our marriage. Our children and extended families. One more day together. One more day of freedom, of food and shelter. This breath in; this breath out.
3. Contentment. Once we bring our focus back to the positive, the natural by-product is contentment – that state of being happy and satisfied. Not that we don’t continue working toward our life goals, and keep pushing on doors to see if they’ll open, but we find the balance of pushing and working and being content and grateful until more unfolds.
4. Deeper compassion. We tend to compare what we have with those who have more. Rarely do we compare our lives with, say, someone in a war-torn country. Or with the single mom trying to feed her children, trying to keep them safe and off drugs. Or with someone living in a wheelchair. When we’re making the correct comparisons, it can lead us toward more compassion for those who truly struggle.
5. Better social connections. If we’re completely honest, we don’t enjoy hanging out with whiny, discontent people. If this describes us, then how far do we think our negative attitudes will take us in our careers? In developing durable family relationships and long-lasting friendships?
In the past, I’ve blogged about counting my way to 1000 things I’m grateful for. I’m currently in the 900s, and the exercise has been pure enjoyment.
Soon I’m going to need a new hardbound journal to start my second numbering to one thousand … because the counting of gifts never ends.
Here’s my challenge for you: Start a gratitude journal, and see if it doesn’t change the way you look at life.
As I work on my good-health-that-comes-from-gratitude, here are a few things added to my gratitude list this morning, this 2017 Thanksgiving week:
Month-long sabbatical in Tucson
Watercolor sky tinged in purples and golds
Comforting cup of hot tea
Catch-up phone call with family member
One of my pieces published in an online caregiver magazine this week
My view: Craggy mountain ranges and sentinel saguaro cactuses (cacti?)
Grocery shopping this morning in a store with stocked shelves — so much bounty
Time. All the time in the world this November to listen and be still and learn and pray and knit and read and write and take walks and count the things I’m grateful for.
If you know of someone who could use a bit of encouragement to practice gratitude, please share, tweet or pin!