Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gratitude Works!

Do you doubt the impact that practicing gratitude has on wellness? If this is just happy-ology, then it is powerful enough to change longevity and life satisfaction for the better.

For example, the oft-cited Nun Study by the University of Kentucky looked at the autobiographies of nuns by coding each one for both negative and positive emotions. The study found an amazing SEVEN year difference in the life-span between the most negative and the most positive. Of those who used a low number of positive emotions, 54% had died by the age of 80 and of those who used the highest number of postive emotions, only 24% had died by 80. Or look in the great little book, How Full Is Your Bucket, by Rath and Clifton, in which this study is cited.

In his lecture titled Gratitude: The Science and Spirit of Thankfulness, Robert Emmons of the University of California presented a study on "gratitude intervention" among middle schoolers. Sixth and seventh graders were asked to count their blessings over a three week span. The gratitude induction correlated with higher optimism, and overall life satisfaction with different domains, such as school, home, etc. at both the immediate post test and the three week follow-up.

One way to get started with gratitude as a spiritual practice: try doing a daily gratitude examen. At the beginning of each day- or in the evening if you prefer, take a few minutes to reflect on the previous 24 hours and list 2 or 3 experiences for which you are grateful and why (how did this benefit you?). Clergy are in special need of a practice like this- not in order to avoid the spiritual life- but to draw us into a deeper experience of it.

There is no instant spiritual life or community, despite what church ads promise! Gratitude works,and gratitude also is a practice, a discipline.

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