Practicing thanks

Years ago, when I was in the Air Force stationed in Washington DC, I had a secretary named Pat. To say that Pat had a hard life was an understatement. Pat was a breast cancer survivor. One of her children had been murdered. She lived in a dangerous part of the city, and nearly every week she came to work with a new story about a relative who’d been a victim of a violent crime.

But when you asked Pat how she was doing, she always said, “I’m blessed.”

I’m sure she meant it, but saying, “I’m blessed” also had the effect of reminding herself, and teaching us, that there is a greater power at work in our lives which transcends our circumstances.

For years, there’s been a growing body of research that has tied an attitude of gratitude with improved emotional and physical well-being. When we give thanks, our breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure go down. People who are routinely thankful are more successful and better able to navigate life.

Giving thanks is actually good for us.

I just read the summary of a Harvard study in which subjects took five minutes a day, every day at the same time, for one week, to write down three things that they were thankful for. They didn’t have to be big things, but they did have to be concrete and specific. “I’m thankful my boss gave me a compliment today.” “I thankful my daughter gave me a hug.” “I’m thankful for the delicious takeout meal last night.” Simple things like that.

A month later, the researchers found that those who practiced gratitude—including those who stopped the exercise after one week—were happier and less depressed.

After three months, they still were more joyful and content.

After six months they still were happier, less anxious, and less depressed.

The simple practice of writing down three thanksgivings a day over the course of one week apparently primed the participants’ minds to search for the good in their lives.

Always give thanks.

Keep in practice.

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