Elaine Stone

November 2009

Ok, so the economy has not yet recovered and many are experiencing devastation or at least a pinching tightness. Bank accounts are not what they used to be and Americans have to make choices this generation has never had to make. Fast approaching, around the corner, Thanksgiving looms on the American calendar. Many are not feeling very thankful and the thought of conjuring it up, for the sake of celebration, is like throwing a wet blanket on a cold soldier. It sends shivers down the spine or at least a twinge across the flesh. It is like swimming upstream and never getting to the destination or treading water hoping to be rescued. What American's don't feel, at this point in history, is thankful, but what appears to be the impossible, is exactly the antidote for the problem. Thankfulness is not found after large scale abundance, it is found in the simple and spills over as it is practiced, into the heart which nourishes the spirit and enlivens the person.

In 1621, at the first Thanksgiving, the pilgrims were not celebrating extravagant life in the Americas. They had not discovered gold, struck it rich or found a life of cushy ease. They were celebrating harvest, crops, food, potatoes, corn…life's subsistence. By today's standards, they were celebrating the little things, only to them, they were the big things. They had spent months languishing near death. They watched the numbers among them dwindle. The harvest they took in meant the hope of survival through the winter. They were not fixated on bank accounts, retirement portfolios, and real estate acquisitions. Their sole focus was survival. Having the bear necessities for life, food, water, shelter, was all they needed for jubilant celebration. The hope of survival was all they required to respond with thanksgiving.

Perhaps, thankfulness for the smallest things in life proves to yield sustaining power and transform. Medical research supports this claim. Jeffrey Froh, an assistant professor in the graduate program in school-community psychology at Hofstra University in New York, divided 200 sixth- and seventh-graders into three groups and each day for two weeks teachers had one of the groups jot down five things for which they were most grateful. When the exercise ended, Froh and his fellow researchers discovered that the students in the "gratitude" group were considerable more optimistic and satisfied with their lives both at school and at home, than either of the other groups. But even more impressive, in Froh's view, was that when he went back to measure the students three weeks after the experiment ended those in the gratitude group were still scoring significantly higher in optimism and satisfaction. "What's nice about it is that exercise required only a couple of minutes a day, yet the effects maintained themselves," Froh commented. (http://www.projo.com/news/content/lb_gratitude_11-24-07_6H7UJKR_v8.12696eb.html, accessed Sept. 2009)


Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, a professor who many consider to be a leading authority on the "science" of gratitude, has summarized what he considers the most significant findings of a project that he conducted: young adults who express gratitude daily were more alert, enthusiastic, determined and attentive and had more energy. (http://www.altoonamirror.com/page/content.detail/id/502099.html?nav=728&showlayout=0, accessed Sept. 2009)  Emmons further explains, "The biggest bonuses come from experiencing gratitude habitually, but natural ingrates needn't despair. Simple exercises can give even skeptics a short-term mood boost, and once you get started, you find more and more things to be grateful for. Gratitude needn't be directed at another person to hit its mark. Take just a few minutes each day to jot down things that make you thankful, from the generosity of friends to the food on your table or the right to vote. After a few weeks, people who follow this routine feel better about themselves, have more energy and feel more alert. You can be grateful for just about anything that you've received in part because of someone or something else. You may feel grateful to your neighbor for a car pool, to luck for meeting your spouse, to nature for a scenic view or to fate or a higher power for your safety. Thankfulness helps you see that you're an object of love and care." (http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/make-gratitude-adjustment, accessed Sept. 2009)

So, maybe this Thanksgiving, could be the time children, parents, neighbors and all American citizens can begin to emulate what the pilgrims began. Begin with thankfulness for the little things that often pass without notice. How about: the joy of a smile, laughter, a hug, blue skies, children to tuck in at night, a bed, a roof, family jokes, mispronounced words of a youngster, loving eyes, water, a food smudged face, laundry to clean, floors to mop, a refrigerator, kindness, sunshine in the morning, the painted sky of sunset, large brilliant harvest moons, smell of pumpkin pies, visiting friends, rain, phone calls from relatives, children swinging, sweet faces asleep on the pillow, shoes, transportation, birds singing, radiance of flowers, leaves changing colors, potatoes, corn, etc. What the pilgrims practiced so long ago turns out, proven by science, to be the healthiest way to live. Living with gratitude and thankfulness seems to perpetuate a positive outcome for the future. Somehow, it transforms the mind by forcing it to look at the positive and then provides initiative and power to its participants.

Amazing, it took till the 21st century for medical science to confirm the practice of the pilgrims. Thanksgiving is a practice that results in untold benefits. There are no questionable outcomes. All who practice it will reap benefits. Go ahead, start listing the small things. Life will begin to look different; it will be different. A thankful heart will be developed and change will come from the inside out.

Elaine Stone, mother of three, lives in Spotsylvania.  Write: elainestone@juno.com


Seasonal Thankfulness Journal


Make thankfulness more tangible by keeping a seasonal thankfulness journal; A place where each year the families thoughts, drawings and inspirations about thankfulness are recorded. (Encourage each member of the family to make their own special entry.) Then, each year, or during the year, the family can revisit the entries and recall the thankful moments from years past which may be forgotten. Consider having each person sharing the thanksgiving meal or who stays with the family over the holidays make a simple entry and sign their name. It will become a reminder of people and moments cherished.


Benefits of Thankfulness

By Danny Gamache, The Success Professor

1. Thankfulness focuses your minds on the good things of life.
2. Thankfulness helps you think of the big picture.
3. Thankfulness reduces stress.
4. Thankfulness provides hope for the future.
5. Thankfulness reminds you to be happy now.
6. Thankfulness puts you in your proper place.

(http://successprofessor.ca/2008/10/12/the-principle-of-thankfulness/, accessed Sept. 2009)