Grat­i­tude a hol­i­day gift that keeps giv­ing the whole sea­son

The Commercial Appeal - - Viewpoint - Your Turn Guest columnist

The hol­i­day sea­son – tra­di­tion­ally from Thanks­giv­ing through early Jan­uary – is a time for feel­ing grate­ful. Usu­ally, we are ex­pected to be thank­ful if some­one does us a fa­vor, or if by chance, for­tune un­ex­pect­edly smiles our way. For re­li­gious peo­ple, of course, grat­i­tude is a daily pre­req­ui­site. A day with­out grat­i­tude is like a day with­out sun­shine.

Psy­chol­o­gists are now tak­ing a much more se­ri­ous look at the links be­tween pos­i­tive emo­tions like thank­ful­ness and gen­eral well-be­ing, both phys­i­cal and mental. They are finding that grat­i­tude, more of­ten than not, makes us bet­ter peo­ple.

Peo­ple who de­scribe them­selves as feel­ing grate­ful to oth­ers or to God tend to have higher en­ergy and greater op­ti­mism. They also suf­fer less stress and ex­pe­ri­ence fewer episodes of clin­i­cal de­pres­sion than the pop­u­la­tion at large.

The re­sults re­main the same even when the re­searchers fac­tor out such cat­e­gories as age, health and in­come, which nul­li­fies the no­tion that it’s easy to feel grate­ful only if you’re young, wealthy, or healthy. Whether you’re younger or older, rich or poor, well or ill, it’s all the same. Grat­i­tude doesn’t de­pend on any of them.

The re­search also re­veals that grate­ful peo­ple tend to be less ma­te­ri­al­is­tic than oth­ers and suf­fer less anx­i­ety about how much they own or how much it’s all worth. Peo­ple of very mod­est means or vic­tims of per­sonal tragedy fre­quently re­port their heart­felt ap­pre­ci­a­tion for ex­ist­ing con­di­tions, while very pros­per­ous and suc­cess­ful peo­ple of­ten dis­play lit­tle grat­i­tude at all.

I re­mem­ber hear­ing about the di­rec­tor of a non­profit fo­cused on the work­ing poor fol­low­ing fund­ing cut­backs. “There’s no ques­tion,” he said, “fund­ing is down, but what is as­tound­ing,” he added, “is how mod­est the ex­pec­ta­tions are.”

He then pro­ceeded to tell about one par­tic­u­lar client at the cen­ter – a mid­dle-aged woman whose hus­band had dis­ap­peared, her son was shot to death in a drive-by shoot­ing, and she is suf­fer­ing from in­creas­ing paral­y­sis in both her legs.

Be­cause the past sum­mer was so bru­tally hot, the di­rec­tor of­fered her a win­dow air con­di­tioner for her apart­ment to ease her dis­com­fort.

“Oh, heav­ens,” she said, “I don’t need an air con­di­tioner. All I’d ask for is a fan for my bed­room. That would be more than suf­fi­cient. You go save that money and spend it on some­body else who needs it more than I do.”

And then the di­rec­tor fi­nally asked her, “Mary, how are things go­ing for you?” and she said, “Oh, I am very blessed; God has been good to me and I am thank­ful ev­ery day for His mer­cies.”

Grat­i­tude is clearly not a func­tion of ma­te­rial well-be­ing. Why then, in light of all the ac­cu­mu­lated wis­dom on this sub­ject, are Amer­i­cans not more aware of the value of grat­i­tude? Per­haps one rea­son is our mod­ern fix­a­tion on self-reliance. Two supreme Amer­i­can virtues are in­de­pen­dence and rugged in­di­vid­u­al­ism.

Clearly, these have pro­duced enor­mous eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fits. But they have ex­acted a heavy price as well.

Peo­ple who be­lieve they are masters of their own des­tiny find it un­com­fort­able to be grate­ful. Peo­ple who cling fiercely to their rugged in­di­vid­u­al­ism don’t want to think about their in­debt­ed­ness to oth­ers, and grat­i­tude im­plies de­pen­dency and vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

Hard as it is for many to ad­mit, de­pen­dency and vul­ner­a­bil­ity are facts of life. We are all de­pen­dent upon one an­other. The hol­i­day sea­son de­serves our high­est re­gard be­cause it is good for our mental and spir­i­tual well-be­ing. The surest way to a healthy heart is a grate­ful heart. Grat­i­tude is a fab­u­lous for­mula for im­prov­ing hu­man life ev­ery day for all one’s years.

Micah Green­stein is se­nior rabbi of Tem­ple Is­rael.

Micah Green­stein

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.