Here at SOW, part of our mission is to help stressed out, overwhelmed, frazzled women and mommies become more balanced, live more peaceful and fruitful lives, and thrive! Because we, too, struggle here, we have been reading a wonderful book about gratitude by Ann Voskamp, entitled, “One Thousand Gifts.” In short, she discusses the tendency for the human brain to be bent toward discontentedness, dissatisfaction, to always think the grass is greener somewhere else – to do that thing we do where we say “well once I get this house, this promotion, get this debt paid, get my child out of college, get this sickness gone, get a new job, get rid of this annoying co-worker, lose this weight, etc…then, I will be able to be happy, then I can rest, then things will be good.”
And yet there is ALWAYS one more thing that needs to be in place, to be fixed, to be gone…one more thing that needs to be more or better or different in some way. We chase, we strive, we problem-solve, we try to control and predict and fix, and yet contentedness and peace continue to elude us.
Ann Voskamp challenges us to begin to live more fully in the present (versus worrying about the future or ruminating about the past), to become more grateful human beings, more at peace, more aware of all the gifts we have been given in this life that are right in front of us. And she starts the challenge with herself…she begins keeping a written log and sets out to write 1000 things for which she is thankful…and not just write them down, but reflect on them, meditate on them, live them, talk about them, and actually experience them fully present in the moment. Wow!
In addition to reading this book, we did a little digging into the scientific literature on gratitude, and discovered that there are brilliant psychologists including Robert Emmons, Michael McCullough, and Barbara Fredrickson to name a few, who are devoting much of their research careers to studying positive emotions including gratitude or the ability to be thankful. Let us share with you a few of the findings. First of all, gratitude is what is known as a feeling that expands, broadens, or grows us in some way – meaning it leads to even greater things. (As a quick aside, we will have to do another post as a contrast to this one on the opposite sort of feelings that restrict and narrow our lives, such as fear and stress/anxiety, that while are important and useful, can also cause us to miss opportunities and much of the beauty of life, especially when they become chronic.)
But back to expanding us and leading to better things…people who are grateful are both physically and emotionally healthier. That’s right! Their immune systems are stronger, they fight off illness more effectively, and they are less likely to get sick. They also are more optimistic about their present life, and more hopeful about their futures. They see the glass half full! They are more alert, enthusiastic, determined, attentive, and energetic! They are more likely to set and reach goals rather than simply “sleepwalk” or lazily drudge through the daily grind of life. They are also much more likely to be empathic, to see the needs of others, to have stronger bonds with others, and to actually give of themselves to other people, whether it is giving in a practical tangible way or by providing heartfelt emotional caring and support. These things hold true for grateful folks even in the midst of dealing with their own hardship and suffering and illness, and they apply to individuals across the lifespan – children, adolescents, and adults!
The key, though, is that you have to practice gratitude! Because we are bent toward being discontent, we actually have to retrain our brains! And we can! The human brain is amazing that way – we can always build new neural pathways up there, just like building a new highway or road. So instead of worrying all the time, feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and viewing daily life in terms of what needs to be changed or fixed, we can LEARN to be more grateful for what is right now in front of us.
So we would like to challenge you to do just that. We have created a list of 30 daily “Thanksgiving” practices – one for each day of the month of November. And we must give credit to Ann Voskamp from whose writings provided much of our inspiration for this list. We strongly encourage writing them down in a journal, discussing them with others, and spending some time actually reflecting or meditating on them. You can discuss these with your spouse, as a family at meal times, during bedtime rituals and prayers. What we don’t want is for the exercise to be reduced to just thinking them or listing the “gratitudes” in a rote fashion, which can become a more superficial experience where you don’t reap the full benefits of re-wiring your brain and transforming your mind. Because we have children, we have written these to be kid-friendly so that we can do this with them too; however, we encourage engaging in this practice regardless of whether you have kids or not. For those of you who do, go ahead and practice this with them – help their brains build those neural pathways that lead to a greater sense of peace and fullness. Model for them what a more grateful, peaceful, content human being looks like. Now let’s do this!
“In All THINGS give thanks…” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
30 Day Gratitude Challenge
- Three things about Fall
- Three things orange
- Three things about school or work
- Three things about home
- Three things about nature
- Three things blue
- Three things about my immediate family
- Three things about my extended family
- Three things beautiful
- Three new things I learned recently
- Three activities that are quiet
- Three activities that are loud
- Three activities I do alone
- Three activities done with others
- Three things green
- Three things ugly
- Three things hard to do
- Three things easy to do
- Three things soft
- Three random things that happened today
- Three things holy, divine
- Three things old
- Three things new
- Three things funny or entertaining
- Three people in my life and why
- Three things about myself
- Three things yellow
- Three things hot
- Three things cold
- Three things about the holidays