On Thanksgiving Day, my husband went to buy a newspaper. The drugstore was all sold out of the local paper, the Akron Beacon Journal, so he got the Cleveland Plain Dealer instead. One of my favorite writers, Regina Brett, left the Beacon Journal several years ago, and now writes for the Plain Dealer (as well as writing a book and hosting a weekly radio call in show), so I got a chance to read her column again. Her commentary on Thanksgiving Day was on being grateful, a favorite topic of mine. She wrote about a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) story that ran this week subtitled: 'Grateful People Are Happier, Healthier Long After the Leftovers Are Gobbled Up". The story stated scientific evidence shows that people who feel grateful have more energy, earn more money, and sleep better, among many other benefits.
I wondered which came first, the gratefulness, or the increased energy and money and better sleep? I know that for me, when I sleep better and have more energy, I feel much more grateful than when I am fatigued and awake half the night. I looked up the WSJ article to find out. It said that most of the studies looked at associations, not cause and effect, so it was unclear which came first. They did cite a couple of studies that specifically looked at this question. In one, researchers took over 100 undergrad students, and randomly divided them into three groups. One group wrote five things for which they were grateful during the past week for 10 weeks, the next wrote five things that annoyed them each week, and the third group wrote five events that occurred. The group that wrote things for which they were grateful reported having fewer health complaints, exercising more regularly and felt better about their lives in general than the other two groups. This demonstrates that experiencing gratitude really does have positive effects on the individual.
The article suggests ways to practice gratitude, including common suggestions, such as keeping a gratitude journal, counting your blessings, and using positive language whether talking to others or yourself. Brett mentions two techniques for practicing gratitude she learned from the WSJ which are also new to me. One is to write your letter of thanks, but instead of mailing it, deliver it in person or on the phone. This way, you get to experience the joy you bring to the other person.
The other idea is to find a gratitude accountability buddy with whom you can exchange gratitude lists. On TalkSjo, one of the Sjogren's Syndrome email lists I subscribe to, several people post their 'Monday Gratitude List' each week. Sometimes if I am in a hurry, I skip or just skim over these lists, but usually I enjoy reading them. We vicariously share the joys of each other's lives, just as we share the trials of having the same chronic illness. Just imagine how miserable life would be if we focused on the trials, and never noticed the joys. On second thought, forget that. Instead, imagine how glorious life would be if we focused on the trials only long enough to manage them, and spent most of our energy focusing on the joys. Misery loves company, so does joy.