Not long ago while visiting in NC, I spent an afternoon with my friend, Deb, at the North Carolina Zoo. Deb takes pictures of life in nature; everything from plant life to animal life (and everything in between). She sees things that most folks miss and often stopped and pointed out things I would have just walked right by as my “notice-er” is out of practice. When Deb takes a picture she always whispers, “thank you”. When I first caught her doing it we were just thrilled and tickled that I was actually hearing her whisper of thanks! Cochlear implant sisters-in-arms, we always celebrate those moments.
However, since my visit I have given her habitual murmured thanks a lot more thought. When I tend to think on somethin’, I ponder, speculate, question, and soul-search. Eventually I write about it – even if it takes me almost 15 months to get around to it!
Like a Dangling Spider Cares?
I have to admit, when I first heard her thank a lily-pad, skimming dragonfly, I thought, “Umm. This critter does NOT care if she thanks it for the Kodak moment or not”. But it’s deeper than that. An attitude of gratitude and respect is cultivated. We certainly aren’t born with it. I remember teaching my toddlers “please” and “thank you”. Sure… some of that can be a learned behavior from appropriate modeled examples. Some folks are just naturally friendly and easy-going. Some walk around like a sour puss (I’ll not mention any names) and thanks is a foreign language. Most of us fall somewhere in between, our emotional health dependent on life circumstances. This is why an attitude of gratitude must be created and exercised faithfully to instill a HABIT.
It starts with the small things. Walking out underneath my porch to dispose of an empty plastic container, I thank the spider who just snagged that mosquito. (No. I haven’t found it in my soul yet to thank any skeeters). I try to thank my family members for doing things – EVEN IF IT IS THEIR JOB TO DO SO. I thank my students for turning their work in on time; or, if late, for eventually turning it into me! I thank the very pregnant, adjunct coordinator for my department, as she certainly has better things to do (like nesting) than to email all of us our reminders for the semester. I thank the person in training at the U.S. Post Office for waiting on me – which they stuttered out a very surprised “Your welcome!”. (Doin’ everything I can to assist in a decrease of “goin’ postal”). I thank the cashiers at the grocery store, Wal-mart, and CVS. (I thank the produce department workers, which is only funny to you if you know me well). I thank my waiter/waitress every time they do the smallest thing for me at a restaurant… even though it is their job. I thank “hound dog” for every task she does for me, which only increases the tempo of her wag. Do you see how far this attitude of gratitude can go?
Sitting with a friend waiting for small group to start one Sunday morning, I startled her by saying, “thank you for being my friend”. She sat there with her mouth hanging open waiting for “more” or for “the other shoe to drop” (like… would you DO THIS FOR ME?) She said, “That’s it? Well gee. I’ve not received a thanks like that in awhile!” I grinned at her but thought, ►well why not?◄ Why do we not thank the folks in our life even when there is no real reason? Keeping it to ourselves doesn’t bless anyone.
“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”
~ Gladys B. Stern
Expressing our thanks must be EXPRESSED. William Ward said, “”Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” According to “Happy Life U” (you should check it out!) expressing thanks can actually improve emotional happiness.New research shows that practicing gratitude may be the fastest single pathway to happiness, health, long life, and prosperity. In a remarkable study performed by Dr. Emmons, people who kept a gratitude journal for just 3 weeks measured 25% higher on life satisfaction after wards. They exercised more, drank alcohol less, and their families and friends noticed that they were nicer to be around. And the effects lasted for several months beyond the initial 3 week study. Other studies on gratitude are confirming these results. People who take the time to notice and appreciate the good things that come their way through grace, or luck, or the goodness of others are happier and more peaceful. They do better on cognitive tests and tests of problem solving skills. They practice healthier habits, have better relationships, are more optimistic and live longer. Gratitude is one powerful emotion (Happy Life U, 2011-2012, para. 5).
So What Has This Taught Me?
I already explained I’ve been thinkin’ on this topic for better than 15 months. I’ve even followed up with a conversation or two with my friend, Deb, about this which likely has her wondering why this is so important to me. I write a great deal about invisible and chronic illness, acquired disabilities, and living victorious lives in the bodies in which we find ourselves living.
Naturally, I had to research if being thankful could help folks in the community of souls of which I self-identify. Wood, Joseph, and Linley (2007), suggest that gratitude can be a powerful social support tool that folks with disabilities can use to help them. They asked 236 folks with various burdens (disabilities, chronic and terminal illnesses, addictions, etc.) to participate in a study that asked them to keep a gratitude journal. Folks discovered their written “thanks” eventually jumped off their pages and out of their mouths. “Gratitude correlated positively with seeking both emotional and instrumental social support, positive reinterpretation and growth, active coping, and planning” (Wood, Joseph, & Linley, 2007, p. 1076).
Allison Shadday has MS. She believes we need to shift our attention. “Sometimes we all have to slow down intentionally before we’re able to genuinely appreciate the many positive aspects of our lives. If you find yourself feeling critical or negative during the day, take a deep breath and redirect your attention to something for which you’re grateful. Notice if your body becomes more relaxed and your breathing more steady. Tune in to how your attitude shifts when you focus on the sweetness in life. This is living consciously” (Shadday, 2006, p. 51).
It seems… being thankful makes us healthy. More than that… it can make us HAPPY. The recipient of our thanks may not deserve it. They may not look like they need it.
I think you will find it can change YOUR life, for the better.
© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal
Note: You can “see” and “hear” more from Deb at http://visionsofsong.wordpress.com/
Happy Life U. (2011-2012). New Science of Happiness. Retrieved August, 12, 2012, from http://www.happylifeu.com/Attitude-of-Gratitude.html
Shadday, A. (2006). Embracing an attitude of gratitude. Inside MS, 24(6), 50-51.
Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Linley, P. (2007). Coping style as a psychological resource of grateful people. Journal Of Social & Clinical Psychology, 26(9), 1076-1093.