Being Thankful, Now and Always!

It’s become oh-so-chic to make Thankful Lists. Oprah had people doing it a few years back. Various authors have people do it, especially around Thanksgiving. Psychologists have their patients keep their gratitude journals when they’re facing times of depression or discontent with their lives.

Photo of Alice Walker with her quote superimposed: "'Thank you' is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding."Making a list of the things for which you are grateful is a beneficial process if you need to take a good look at your life and gain a new perspective. Or perhaps, things just seem a little off kilter and your perspective needs a bit more balance.

But there’s an important detail we seem to be missing – that attitude of gratitude shouldn’t just be a fleeting, once in a lifetime or once a year project. It should be something we carry with us at all times.

Science has long taught us that hugs help us live longer, with recommendations being anywhere from four to fifteen hugs a day. (Better start hugging!) But how many people are aware that being thankful also contributes to a healthier lifestyle? In a study conducted just a decade ago, it was discovered that by keeping track of the things for which they were grateful, subjects developed a more positive and optimistic appraisal of their lives. What’s more, they spent more time exercising, and they reported fewer physical symptoms.

Scientists have also discovered that our bodies need serotonin, a neurotransmitter. More serotonin is released into the brain when we smile or say, “Thank you.”

Do you ever feel scatterbrained or worry about your memory? Are you slightly afraid that you’re going to turn into your mother or your grandmother, losing your keys one minute and your car in a parking lot the next? Laugh more and develop that thankful attitude. The serotonin which is released helps build synapses in your brain, which increases your attention to detail.

To be honest, some of us just seem to have more difficulty being grateful than others. Some of us identify more with Grumpy than with Happy. But all is not lost. Another study found that up to forty percent of our happiness might result from actions we choose to do to make ourselves happier. As one author put it, we can reset our happiness thermometers.

At this time of year, as we traditionally pause in the midst of our chaos to give thanks, perhaps we should let those grateful moments build into daily habits. Along with our exercise, flossing, and showers, we can add the regimen of counting our blessings. It’s certainly more pleasant than the first two, at least. And the practice is life-changing. Research has also determined that this attitude of gratitude inspires “prosocial reciprocity” and underlies reciprocal altruism. Having gratitude builds and strengthens social bonds and friendships and helps us to feel loved and cared for by others. If that’s not enough, gratitude has also been found to help to build and strengthen a sense of spirituality.

Feeling thankful, yet? When you next face yourself in the mirror, smile at your wonderful self. Smile for your wonderful life. And give thanks. For your blessings are multitudinous. Now”¦ start counting.


By Tamalyn

Still seeking a world of peace & justice, this minister, mate, and mom - an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), finds great happiness and God's presence in many places: from sandy beaches to the top of a Teton, soup kitchens to used bookstores. Tamalyn embraces the philosophy that "Life is Good," but we have much work to do.

7 replies on “Being Thankful, Now and Always!”

Ugh. I’m sorry. This just rubs me the wrong way. So if I’m thankful that’ll fix all the serotonin in my brain and I’ll be cured? I think the research is pretty clear that serotonin is not the only culprit in the depression game. And while gratitude can help, of course, I think this one-size-fits-all type thing is difficult. And what if life just sucks? What if you’re having a really, really, really shitty year? What if your boyfriend dumped you and you lost your job and you had to move back in with your mom (which happened to me 2 years ago and it was the worst)? Yeah, sure, I could have kept a gratitude journal about how at least I had a roof over my head and give my mom a hug, but let’s be honest: sometimes life just sucks. For once I’d like to read an article about the magic powers of kvetching. Maybe I should join one of those complaining choirs I’ve heard about…

I don’t think Tamalyn is saying “be thankful and all your ills will be cured”. I think the point of the article is that being thankful for all the things you *do* have should be an ongoing thing, not an idea that’s dragged out once a year for Thanksgiving. And that being grateful for things like a mom to hug and a roof over your head, access to the internet and the ability to read what’s posted on P-mag, can help with the process of dealing with those times when life just sucks.

This article really resonated with me. I know I have so much to be thankful for. But my realization of this is always most deeply felt when I look back on my 36 years and know that if it wasn’t for those times when life really just sucked, I would not have those things I treasure most dearly today.

You got it, Alice. As a person with both happy pills and a happy light, I’m working hard to build up serotonin in my brain, learning to look beyond the clouds in the sky and my life, and finding the beauty that exists.

Sally, sometimes life is excessively difficult. Sometimes we find that the last thing in life we want to do is wake up, drag ourselves out of bed, and face another crap filled day. But we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and do it because we’re strong and we know that life will only get better if we MAKE it better. And we know that life will only get beautiful if we start finding and celebrating the beauty.

A complaining choir would be a gift, but only for so long. At some point you have to stop complaining and start fixing.

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