Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert Emmons is a masterpiece for anyone interested in their own spiritual health. I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Emmons in a 2007 lecture in Houston. If you ever doubted the role of gratitude in healthy spirituality and human wholeness, then this book is for you. Actually, this volume is a must read for our own well being, especially as we offer spiritual care to others.
Emmons maintains that gratitude not only is good for those who practice it, but also, motivates us to do good. It seems that gratitude is "in season" right now; however, within everyone is what the author believes is a "set point" for happiness. Practicing gratitude can increase a person's capacity for happiness significantly. The paradigm of the book is that gratitude and happiness fulfill and complete each other. The happiness/gratitude cycle includes both enjoying and recognizing good gifts, good intentions. "Everything looks better when it is seen as a gift," Chesterton stated. So if we can see life and the constituent parts of life as a gift, we are well on the way to living at a deeper, more fulfilling, level.
Because the psychology of gratitude has impressive research behind it, it is not a new happy-ology, or the latest in the power of positive thinking. The counting of blessings counters the adaptation humans have to whatever is good in our lives. Like guinea pigs on a treadmill, we adapt to life as we have it and even life as we want it sometimes. It's true that some of us are naturally more grateful. What the disciplines (psychologists will call them interventions) of gratitude do is to raise our set point for gratitude and happiness, while also dealing with real barriers to gratitude, such as daily hassles, entitlement, or trauma.
The researchers never maintain that a gratitude practice is magical, nor is it easy. It is simply a powerful tool and resource for health, and in my opinion, spirituality. The keeping of a daily gratitude journal for 30 days, for example, impacts depressive symptoms for six months! A one-time "gratitude visit" can have the same impact for 30 days!
I recommend this book, or even Emmons' Words of Gratitude, a lighter read. Or check out the latest from myauthentichappiness.com.
Monday, November 17, 2008
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