The Gift of Thankfulness by Robin Fleming
For many people, the fall and winter seasons bring with them more awareness of what they have to be thankful for. Time spent with family and friends around the Thanksgiving table may include a moment for sharing the blessings of the previous year and offering a prayer in gratefulness for the gifts of home, relationships, health, and the food waiting to be served. As Christmastime rolls around, the message of giving is sung more loudly and thankfulness is again a theme. Children – for a moment at least – feel thankful for presents long dreamed about. Open hearts and homes warm friends and family as they enjoy each other with gratefulness. Those with very little to call their own may have reason to stop and give thanks for the generosity of others who have taken the time to give extra for a meal or warm blanket.
We think of being grateful as acknowledging the gifts we have received. But did you know that thankfulness itself is a gift? The benefits of thankfulness are significant enough to suggest that choosing to cultivate a grateful heart might be one of the best gifts we can give ourselves.
Thankfulness puts our problems in perspective. Giving attention to the difficult things in our lives is not bad. We cannot solve problems or understand feelings like sadness or anger without looking at them. But directing all of our attention toward the negative things is like looking at the storm clouds without seeing the rainbow behind them. What we focus on will affect how we feel and will also affect what we think about our ability to meet the challenges. We can help keep problems from looking insurmountable by finding those things we are thankful for.
Thankfulness puts our relationships in perspective. Even healthy relationships go through challenging times and it is easy to become absorbed in differences to the point that the similarities and good things are blocked out. When we chose to look for positive traits in the other person and practice thankfulness for who he or she is, it becomes easier to assume the best about, assign the best possible motives, and become allies rather than adversaries.
Thankfulness brightens our outlook on the rest of life. Ann Voskamp, in One Thousand Gifts, says that “gratitude is but a way of seeing” and “life change comes when we receive life with thanks and ask for nothing to change.” Coming from heartbreaking realities herself, Voskamp is not arguing that the wrongs and abuses we observe should be ignored or called good. It is not about taking a Pollyanna view of things or accepting what should never be accepted. But contentment in other ways grows and life takes on a different hue as we begin to look for the gifts, big and small, that come to us every day.
Thankfulness improves our mental and physical health. Amy Morin, in an article for Psychology Today, cites research which indicates that people who practice gratitude may experience fewer issues with pain, improve their sleep, and add to their ability to recover from trauma. In other research on the effects of gratitude cited by the American Psychiatric Association, participants showed improvements in their mental health after several weeks of writing letters of gratitude. Imagine the impact we might make on our own well-being simply by choosing practice thankfulness.
Practicing gratitude, giving thanks for the gifts among the hurts, looking for the jewels among the pebbles at our feet, is a gift.