Give Gratitude a Go

Research has been conducted on the benefits of gratitude.

Posted Jan 06, 2017

Alec Bourne/Flickkr
Source: Alec Bourne/Flickkr

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 62 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions at some point in their lives. Most cave in before the end of January. In fact, only 8 percent are successful. 

I’ve pretty much given up my annual resolution to lose 10 pounds, but  in January 2016, I resolved to keep a gratitude journal. Happy to report that I’ve maintained momentum over the past year.  I write in it two to three times a week. Usually short entries, like “cardinal at my bird feeder,” “phone call from an my friend, Jean,” or “crocus blooming in mid-March.”

Those of us whose loved ones suffer from substance abuse suffer as well. Depending on the circumstance, we experience a wide-range of negative emotions such as, anger, resentment, fear, guilt, self-pity, depressiongrief, isolation, and worry. You name it and we’ve experienced it at one time or another. And in times of crises and/or relapses we drown in a tsunami of negativity.

We need help to counteract these destructive emotions in order to manage our many challenging situations. Some of us participate in twelve-step programs, such as Al-Anon or less spiritually oriented groups. Others seek help from professional therapists or members of the clergy. Some share with trusted friends. Those whose faith is strong pray or meditate.  

Gratitude aids my recovery. It helps counteract my frustration and fear when my adult son fails to take responsibility for his behavior. It helps lessen my feelings of guilt when I ruminate about  the past or beat myself up for enabling. (“What did I do or not do?” “What could I have done differently?” “Why can’t I stop trying to fix him?”) And it helps offset self-hatred when I wallow in self-pity. (“Why me?’ “What have I done to deserve this?” “Why can’t our family be healthy and normal?)

Much research has been conducted on the benefits of gratitude. Dr. Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis writes, "Gratitude is linked to a host of psychological, physical, and social benefits: stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, more feelings of joy, and a greater sense of social connection, among many others." Before his death from cancer at the age of 81, neurologist, Oliver Sacks, published a slim volume of essays titled Gratitude. He wrote, “I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude…Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.” Roshi John Daido Loori suggests that gratitude can be transformative. He writes “Expressing gratitude can, indeed, change our way of seeing ourselves and the world.”

I’m not suggesting that expressing gratitude is a panacea for the turmoil we experience.  That’s too simplistic. But it can serve as a tool to help cope with challenges. It can help shift our perspective from negative to positive. And for that I’m thankful.

For tips on keeping a journal of gratitude see: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal