I’m starting another Ten Things of Thankful post with some reservations. I haven’t written any posts on this blog since last week’s TToT, and I don’t want it to become nothing but a thankful blog. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not my intention for this blog. I mainly want to write posts about parenting and self-development. Still, gratitude is part of that, and besides I want to join in the hop. November is beginning to look busy for me so this could well become the Thankful blog for a month. I think Lizzi, our Ten Things of Thankful inventor and co-host has even declared November “NaNoGraMo,” which stands for National November Gratitude Month or something similar. The plan is to write a gratitude post each day. Since I have decided to take part in NaNoWriMo and write the first draft of a new novel in November, my gratitude posts will probably remain those for the weekend blog hop. Today I want to write a slightly different post, one about the way gratitude can affect us and others. I feel thankful for that!
Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at The University of California, researched the effects of gratitude. His book, Thanks, was published in 2006 and contains his findings. The results are now fairly well known – feeling gratitude makes you happier. Now, the cynics among us could think, “Yeah, well it’s pretty obvious that happy people probably find it easy to be grateful. It’s not something you can just make yourself feel, I can’t help how I am. Besides, those happy-clappy thankfullers probably have plenty to be grateful for.”
If that’s what you think, take a look at this video. Watch it right to the end. If you really don’t have time to do that, watch the beginning and then skip to 6.10 and listen to what the presenter has to say. You’ll be thankful you did!
I admit, the first time I watched this video, I thought that it was probably all done by actors and therefore fake. But the next video explains that the participants weren’t actors after all.
So now you’ve watched the videos, you know that the least-happy person felt the biggest change after expressing gratitude. I’ve read of the same results elsewhere. Gratitude can’t be faked, and I have a feeling that trying to be grateful to try to feel happier isn’t likely to have a positive effect – but allowing yourself to remember things you genuinely feel grateful for – there’s no guarantee, but there’s a good chance it will make you happier. I’m thankful for that.
I was interested that Emmons’s book starts with a story about an accident that happened to the famous writer, Stephen King . He experienced multiple fractures, and yet when asked how he felt about coming so close to death, his reply was that he felt gratitude. But a quick investigation on the internet suggests his gratitude didn’t last. He’s also quoted as being less than pleased that the driver who hit him wasn’t sentenced to time in jail. Still, I guess that is the nature of gratitude: it comes and goes. Yet the more we genuinely feel it, the more we genuinely experience a sense of peace. At least, that’s my experience. Something I also noticed about those videos earlier is that it wasn’t just the people expressing gratitude that seemed happier – the people who filmed them seemed pretty joyful about the experiment too. I’ve also noticed this in my life: when people are grateful it has a rub-off effect on others around them. Today I’m going to share a few moments like this. I’m grateful for them.
Those of you who have read my earlier posts about my father won’t be too surprised to learn he was a great example of this. Like Stephen King he was once in a horrific accident. Unlike Stephen King’s accident, nobody was at fault. The day after the accident I spoke to my father on the phone and asked how he was. His reply has remained firmly in my memory ever since. He said, “Thankful to still be here.” And unlike King, he never expressed any other feeling about that accident.
Four and a half years before he died, my father was diagnosed with myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. Shortly afterwards, I learned that a friend of mine also had the same condition. She lived in the city where my father had to go for treatment and so on one of of his trips I introduced them to each other. As they sat discussing their ups and downs, I was awed to hear them both describe how lucky they were. My Dad thought himself lucky because he hadn’t had the infections that often came with myeloma – even though his back was bent because of collapsed vertebrae. My friend thought herself lucky because although she had the infections, she didn’t have the damaged bones. Both these lovely people are now gone, but the memory of that time still fills me with awe. This is the power of gratitude.
Once, I had the wonderful experience of realising my gratitude had a profound effect on someone else. When our elder daughter was six or seven, she and I were at traffic lights waiting to cross a road. I looked down at her and felt a massive surge of love, gratitude and joy for her. We hugged. Then I noticed a man standing nearby who was looking at us and beaming. I felt awed by that too. And grateful – for my daughter and that our joy could affect a stranger.
The Ten Things of Thankful has this same effect. As we write our own and read each others’ posts we are undoubtedly spreading love. To join in the hop, just click the button below.