Monday, February 4, 2008

The Grace of Gratitude

When I heard about the amazing results in the new field of gratitude studies, it was as if heaven opened. Dr. Emmons of the University of California, and author of THANKS! , maintained in a 2007 lecture that practicing gratitude can have a positive impact on everything from quality of sleep among those with chronic illnesses to life satisfaction and optimism in middle school youth.

Many core findings can be found in his little volume,Words of Gratitude, and also in the article "Positive Psychology Progress" available at

My own story includes traumatic (and not totally unique) early childhood events, such as having my stomach pumped due to an accidental overdose of chewable aspirin. Another time my wind pipe began to close from a severe viral infection. Blue in the face, I required emergency breathing assistance until the EMS/Police could arrive with oxygen. Our neighbor and friend, Dr. John Bibbs, was available each time and in my gasping episode, he tilted the vaporized air flow into my nose and mouth with a cupped hand. Brilliant! After my struggle for air, I can still remember the wonderful relief of just having the air to breathe!

From these experiences, a recognition which fostered a deeper gratitude began to take shape. I began to see my life and the contributions others made to it in a different way. I realized that the benefits I received were life- changing- and that they were intended for my good. The help came from outside myself. But gratitude, according to Emmons, is not only a virtue or a gift- it is also a discipline and one that works wonders in the human spirit!

If gratitude intervention works for middle schoolers, surely it works for clergy! Those middle schoolers and a group of Kentucky Nuns is what we look at next.

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