For most of us, I would guess, it’s not so hard on Thanksgiving to bring to mind many things for which we are grateful. For some of us, though, that might be a little more difficult.
A recent article by Prof. David DeSteno, a psychologist teaching at Northeastern University and Harvard, reminds us of the power that lies within the practice of gratitude.
In his research – as well as that of others – he has found that “feeling grateful has positive effects on our behavior — making us more honest, increasing our self-control, enhancing our productivity at work and our relationships at home.”
He identifies further benefits. Gratitude, he writes:
- aids us in forming and strengthening bonds with other people by making us more open to them and more likely to do something nice for someone else, someone we don’t know.
- reinforces our honesty
- increases our generosity
- enhances our self-control and reduces our impulsiveness
- whether expressed by a supervisor or self-generated leads to more productivity and satisfaction
- similarly, enhances our overall feeling of overall satisfaction with our lives and reduces our need to buy stuff
The Morality of Gratitude
To these important things, I would add that there is a moral dimension to expressing gratitude. When we receive a birthday or wedding gift from someone, it’s considered appropriate to express honest appreciation. I would say that’s something more than simple etiquette. I would say it’s the morally appropriate thing to do.
What about the gifts given us by God, life, family, friends, teachers, community? Isn’t the least appropriate thing to do to feel gratitude? And wouldn’t that goodness be increased by expressing that gratitude?
Developing An Attitude of Gratitude
There are opportunities in the world of Jewish acts to practice gratitude. Prayer, in general, is one of them. Likewise, there are specific prayers: Modeh Ani (a prayer upon awakening) and Birchot Ha-Shachar (the morning blessings), for example. If we recite the Shema regularly upon waking up and going to bed at night, we can add these as other opportunities for gratitude, reflecting upon the day’s activities to come or just completed.
Sometimes, in my own practice, having decided to consider my day from the perspective of gratitude, I find that I have overlooked things, underappreciated them, or even misunderstood them.
Taken together, then, all of these things demonstrate the gift that the ability to be grateful brings to us. For that, too, we ought to be grateful.
And the first way to put that realization into action? By developing an attitude of gratitude, one day at a time.
Susan joins me in wishing you a Thanksgiving filled with joy, good food and, of course, gratitude.