November 20, 2011

Black and white goat peering from behind a gray fence
Photo by Sue Weaver
I’m grateful for my kids that look just like me!

This week is Thanksgiving, a time of year when people are grateful for the good things in their lives. But gratitude is something to be felt year-round. Counting blessings makes people feel good.

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Mom keeps a collection of little books she calls her gratitude journals. She started her first list of “happy things” more than 30 years ago when she felt depressed. She kept the list in a hardback composition book from the five-and-dime (that’s what they called dollar stores in the olden days) and wrote something in it every day. When she felt bummed, she’d open her happy-things book and start reading. It helped a lot.

Tracking your blessings can change your life! A researcher called Dr. Robert A. Emmons divided a study population of college students into three groups and tracked their progress for 10 weeks. He asked the first group to write down five things they were grateful for in the last week for each of the 10 weeks; this was the gratitude group. The second group wrote down five daily hassles from the previous week; they were the hassles group. The third group listed five events that had happened during the last week, whether positive or negative; they were the control group. Before and during the study participants kept daily journals to track their moods, physical health and general attitudes.

Dr. Emmons found that people in the gratitude group felt 25-percent happier than the rest. They were more optimistic about the future, they felt better about their lives, and they did almost 1.5 hours more exercise a week than those in the hassles group. When he checked back, most of the gratitude group kept listing their blessings for a long time after the study was completed.

It’s easy to keep a gratitude journal. Try it! Here’s what to do:

  1. Buy a blank book to write in; it can be a fancy, readymade journal with handmade paper or a plain old spiral notebook, whatever feels right to you. Or download Patricia M. Poole’s free, 40-page gratitude journal or Henrietta Chan’s free, interactive gratitude journal page to fill out and print every night.
  2. Once you begin, use your gratitude journal every day. If you like to write, write a paragraph about each daily blessing; if not, just make a list. Decide how many things you’ll add every day; a famous lady named Oprah says five things is a good number to aim for but you can list more if you like. (Mom shoots for 10 per day, at least.)
  3. Then stay aware during your day. What will you list in your book tonight? That a good friend you haven’t seen in ages called you on the phone? That the sunset was beautiful almost beyond words? That your goat gave you a kiss when she jumped off the milking stand? Or even that you’re healthy and have clean, country air to breathe?

Keep your list and review it often. Reading it will make you feel good. And next Thanksgiving you can get out your journal and see what a blessed year it’s been.  

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