Monday, April 5, 2010

Practicing Gratitude is Worth the Effort

My husband was recently helping me with the spring garden chores, which involved top dressing beds with compost and cutting back the perennials within an inch or two of the ground. He was hard at work on a catmint, one of the most onerous plants to deal with in my garden. Bent over a dried tangle of woody branches, he looked up, pruners in hand, and asked, “Why did you even plant these things?” I responded with my gardening mantra, “Because I love what grows.”

In my prairie garden, where moisture tends to be scarce and hungry deer can be plentiful, catmint is a sure thing. It is tough as nails, blooms profusely, hides the fading foliage of other plants around it, and the deer don’t touch it. Yes, it tends to grow out of bounds, spreading seedlings into the gravel driveway and all along the path, and gives me blisters when I cut it back each year, but it grows—beautifully.

Loving what grows keeps me focused on the good in gardening, makes me grateful that I can sink my hands into the dirt and coax something, anything into bloom. It might take practice, but “wanting what you already have” is a good principle for life. In other words, practicing gratitude is worth the effort.

According to the research of psychologist Robert Emmons, the greatest reward for being grateful is a happier life. In several studies, Emmons asked three separate groups to keep a journal for a period of ten weeks. The first group kept track of what they were grateful for; the second group wrote down what they found irritating or bothersome; and the final group was instructed to write about something that had an impact on them.

At the conclusion of the study, the participants who focused on gratitude, by paying attention to and recording the good things that happened to them during those ten weeks, reported a higher level of well- being; they were generally happier and more optimistic, even sleeping better and exercising more. Other more objective data has shown that practicing gratitude has direct health benefits, which include lowering stress levels and moderating blood pressure.

If it makes good sense to practice gratitude, what’s the best way to do this? It doesn’t have to be a formal exercise in writing things down. It’s really about finding a way that you can acknowledge the good things in your life. At our house, this often happens at the dining room table, where we ask our children to tell us the best part of their day. Just last night, our five-year-old reported, “We got two jelly beans today. We’re really lucky kids.” It’s hard to be a cynic when I’m face-to-face with this kind of child-like thankfulness.

The next time you’re at a stoplight, resist the urge to pull out your cell phone or fiddle with the stereo. Instead, make a mental list of everything you’re thankful for. Or do the same when you’re brushing your teeth or taking a shower. However you do it, make gratitude a ritual. When you do, you’ll learn to want what you have, and you’ll be much happier for it.

CCCS/ACCE –American Center for Credit Education
Carey Denman

No comments:

Post a Comment