By Aimee Serafin

 

As Thanksgiving approaches I would like to encourage us to see this holiday week as an opportunity to set aside some time, both individually and with our family and friends, to reflect on the blessings in our lives. Living in a thankful, appreciative way– daily, hourly, moment by moment– can truly enhance the quality of our lives.  Paying attention to our gratitude puts us in a positive frame of mind.  It connects us to the world around us and ourselves. Research demonstrates that focusing on what we are grateful for is a universally rewarding way to feel happier and more fulfilled. In his bestselling book, What Happy People Know, Dr. Dan Baker (director of the popular wellness program at Canyon Ranch in Arizona) states that appreciation is the single most important tool in developing an enjoyable and productive life. Humans have a natural hunger for appreciation– the authentic and real kind.  In a way, being appreciated and being made aware of it is one way of letting people know they matter, and that their efforts account for something.  Knowing what we appreciate in life means knowing who we are. Additionally, social scientists who have studied the impact of stress on our lives cite a mental attitude of thankfulness as one of the best ways to manage stress. We should never underestimate the power a simple “thank you” wields. Sadly, this is not often valued in everyday life, and not everyone realizes its powerful effects– whether on a personal level among family members, friends and acquaintances, or on a professional level with business partners.

As an important mental health principle, the benefits of gratitude extend far beyond what we may imagine. Scientific studies have found that gratitude has been linked to improvements in lower blood pressure, longer and more restful sleep and being less bothered by aches and pains.  Research has further shown that individuals who track things daily show greater determination, attention, enthusiasm, increased generosity and empathy, increased happiness and greater resiliency compared to those who don’t practice this discipline.  The same research found that even a weekly gratitude journal increases optimism.  Regardless of who you are, or the circumstances of your life, the health benefits of gratitude are undeniable. If you concentrate on finding the good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratefulness as a feeling that nurtures the soul. Gratitude is a heart-opening and life-fulfilling spiritual practice. When you’re able to cultivate a feeling of gratitude and thankfulness, you will ultimately obtain true joy and contentment no matter what you have or don’t have. Sometimes, we must look outside our backyards to realize how truly blessed we are. Nothing yields a bitter dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart.  And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than a true spirit of thankfulness. So, it’s worth taking a time-out and making a list of things to be thankful for, so that you can see just how much happiness there is in the world.

Most of us take for granted what the universe has to offer, and understandably so. Taking time to count our blessings provides a much-needed perspective, particularly at a time when it feels like the world is falling apart around us both politically and environmentally.  We are living in a time of heightened anxiety, fueled in no small measure by ongoing acts of extremism, assassinations and violence being perpetrated throughout the world. In the past six months, there are many examples of the loss of lives as a result of terrorism, mass shootings, humanitarian and climate crises and more.  Not surprisingly, these and other actions intensify the belief and fear that no one is truly safe. We should, however, not let the bad prompt us to adopt behaviors rooted in helplessness, fear and suspicion.  Instead, we should engage in actions that are powerful antidotes to the negative emotions– actions such as caring for others or expressing gratitude.  I have discovered that no matter where we are on our spiritual journey, the fears and anxieties are inevitable. However, cultivating an attitude of happiness and resilience can serve to mitigate the many stresses that currently exist in today’s world.   

It is, therefore, more important than ever to take time this Thanksgiving to express our gratitude by celebrating the simple blessings in life. It is a very powerful thing. When we are grateful, we affirm that a source of goodness exists in our lives. It soothes our turbulent minds by connecting to wonderfully ordinary things– great and small– that we might otherwise take for granted.  Self-compassion, tranquility, righteousness, appreciation, resilience, morality, happiness and trust are just some of the virtues that the world needs more of during these intensifying times. The spirit of the Thanksgiving season is indeed a stimulating time to gather with family and friends. And when you add great food, and the blessings of love, joy and laughter to the setting, it’s sure to generate a remarkable combination!

This article appears in the November 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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