"Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude." A.A. Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh.
With the end of the seemingly endless election season, and the approach of the Thanksgiving holiday, many of us will be turning our thoughts to the things we have to be thankful for, rather than fretting over the tribulations of daily life. And that's good news for our spiritual well being.
Interestingly, the subject of "gratitude" - something we take for granted, which has been at the heart of every major religion for centuries - has recently become a serious pursuit for study in psychological circles. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, has even sponsored scientific research on the subject. Among their findings: gratitude brings us happiness. It boosts feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure and enthusiasm. It reduces anxiety and depression, and can even help us sleep better.
Being grateful for the people in our lives gives us a sense of warmth and fulfillment. Marcel Proust was well aware of that when he wrote, "Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."
Gratitude comes in all sizes. It attaches to the little things that we encounter every day, like the fact that thorn bushes incredibly give us roses.
Gratitude creeps into our larger lives by making us thankful that we live in a free society, have a roof over our heads and plenty to eat, and can give our children a good education. Contrast that to life elsewhere in the world right now, and we can be doubly thankful.
Then there's the cosmic view of thankfulness. So far, out of the billions and billions of stars out there, many with planets of their own, ours is the only one we've found so far that exists in the "goldilocks zone" of its system, as far as life is concerned. Not too hot. Not too cold. With an abundance of water and a breathable atmosphere. A little closer to the sun and we'd fry. A little further away and we'd freeze. A little bigger and gravity would flatten us like pancakes.
Thankfulness also extends to things we take for granted. A friend of mine had hand surgery recently and had to learn to cut his food, button his shirt and tie his shoes with one hand, during the healing process. Try doing that for a day and you'll never take your body for granted again.
For a healthy spiritual life, gratitude, in one form or another, should be on our minds throughout the year. Let's apply that to the Thanksgiving holiday itself. If you're the one preparing dinner for family and friends, reflect on how fortunate you are to have a warm, loving and appreciative gathering to please with the fruits of your efforts. If you're a guest at dinner, how wonderful to be enjoying this meal that others have worked so lovingly to prepare for you.
Gratitude is the glass-is-half-full way of looking at life. Johnny Mercer put it nicely:
You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
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