And it all starts on my birthday, the lucky three-three!
It’s been a month full of nightly rituals, brunchy giggles, yoga dates and surprising presents (thanks ya’ll!). Somewhere at the beginning of this crisp and blustery orange-tinted month, after contemplating my life, where I’m at, what I’ve accomplished, what lies and ahead and how to navigate there best, I had an epiphany! Fine, so I don’t have all those things one might traditionally have at this age: husband, kid (and/or dog), house, car (and/or bike), one (as opposed to three) career(s) … but I do have a lot to be grateful for. Yoga, loved ones, broad experience, the list goes on and on …
And that’s what this next year is all about. Gratitude. Every day, for 365 days, I’m blogging about something I’m thankful for having in my life. The main criteria for this project are that the object of my gratitude has to somehow either:
1. Serve my vision of a future
2. Make me smile, or
3. Make someone else’s day brighter.
It just makes sense, right? If you focus on all the good mojo, you’re bound to attract more (well, that’s not a 100% guarantee, but it certainly does brighten my day when things start looking poopy). I read somewhere ages ago that in a psychology test across several nations, the strongest common denominator of human emotion found in the sampled cultures was … nope, not happiness … nope, not love …. It was gratitude. Looking back on my memory of the study, that’s kind of a vague statement, innit?
So I did a little more research on gratitude. And here are some interesting little tid bits I came up with (many dominated by a scientist named Emmons who published a book last year called “thanks!”). Are the studies all controlled and randomized? That I cannot vouch for. This is, after all, just a lowly ‘lil birthday blog. But I have given citations where available ;o)
- Although cause and effect has not been established, most studies published on gratitude support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well being (Harvard Mental Health Letter, November 2011)
- Participants who kept gratitude lists in a study conducted by Emmons and McCollough were more likely to have made progress toward important goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) – sounds good to me. My goal list for NYC is kinda ridiculous.
- Multiple studies are proving the link between thankfulness and lowered aggression and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners. (The New York Times)
- Gratitude is at the core of many spiritual and religious experiences. We can more easily recognize that we are all connected, not just in action, but perhaps even in some transcendent (or other-dimensional) way. (Various sources, though this one from Emmons and Shelton is particularly in-depth)
- The Hawaiian word for thanks is MAHALO: “There are three root words in Mahalo. The first ma means “in”, the second ha refers to “breath” or “life energy” and alo which means “in the presence of”. Therefore Mahalo invokes a divine blessing which means “may you be in the presence of the divine breath.” It acknowledges the divine as Creator and the divine within as well.”
A big theme in this blog is how science is proving many of the techniques in spiritual practice both relevant and beneficial to a healthy (and even atheist) life. But even just a quick glance on the surface of gratitude reveals it as an awfully simple and fulfilling way to circumvent feelings of daily ennui. The monotony of a day dissipates pretty quickly when you’re actively seeking inspiration.
Looking at the vast array of articles and evidence online, there are a few red flags I’ll have to keep in mind on the journey. In findings from a study conducted by Lyubomirsky et al in 2005, those who practiced gratitude once a week reported being happier, while those who practiced three times a week did not. Could habituation of this practice lead to gratitude becoming as mundane as brushing your teeth? Will the technique lose potency with time?
Well, in true yogic form, there’s only one way to find out …. Experience!
It’s a big commitment – and seeing as I don’t have a kid, a dog, or a house to anchor me, I’m curious to see how this project rolls out. (Then again, one of my middle names, Shigeko, actually means “gracious gift” in Japanese. Boo ya! Thanks for the sweet name, Grams.)
Before I officially get goin’ on the gratitude train, here be the terms:
Gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation is a feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. The experience of gratitude has historically been a focus of several world religions, and has been considered extensively by moral philosophers such as Adam Smith. The systematic study of gratitude within psychology only began around the year 2000, possibly because psychology has traditionally been focused more on understanding distress rather than understanding positive emotions. However, with the advent of the positive psychology movement, gratitude has become a mainstream focus of psychological research. The study of gratitude within psychology has focused on the understanding of the short term experience of the emotion of gratitude (state gratitude), individual differences in how frequently people feel gratitude (trait gratitude), and the relationship between these two aspects. (cheers, Wikipedia!)
Frequency: Every day, no matter the weather, the alignment of the stars, or list of other (seemingly more important) things to do, I will write a blog about what I’m grateful for that day.
Length: Anywhere between a sentence and an essay. Though with the frequency being what it is, don’t expect much!
Seeing as today is my birthday, today I am grateful for the gift to precede all other gifts: BEING ALIVE!
One of my soul sisters has decided to embark on this gratitude journey with me, using a personal journal. Please feel free to share this with anyone you know who might be interested. According to the studies, practicing gratitude even just once a week can be inspiring – physically, psychologically and maybe even spiritually 🙂