by Kathy Jablonski, Field Specialist, 4-H Healthy Living, Youth and Family Team, UNH Cooperative Extension
The holiday season is one filled with joy, memory making and anticipation. For some folks, it’s a time of reflection and goal setting, others to celebrate a joyous time in their religious calendar and many of us to give and receive gifts. It’s also a time of gratitude…for what we have in our lives and the people we have who are supporting us through this journey.
In a healthy living context, all “the reasons for the season” — to borrow a phrase — are things we should be promoting as families and teaching to our children. Gratitude, I have found out, is one we should be focusing on throughout the year.
Off and on for the last 20 years, I’ve kept a gratitude journal. When I take a few minutes and look back through the pages, or when I sit down to write in it, I usually am filled with a sense of peace and thankfulness that all is more or less right in my world. It helps me to focus on the present and be thankful for the gifts — physical, mental and spiritual — that I’ve received and used in my daily life. I record things I feel I’m blessed to receive, I write about the friends and colleagues who support me in my life and I continually pray that the things on my gratitude list continue.
This is a time of year where I sit down and write to someone to thank them for their role in my life. I’ve been fortunate to have lived in three different states and now have a wide circle of people who I am grateful to call friends. Call me old fashioned, but I like to write notes long hand. I like the feeling of taking out the letters I receive to read again and hope the ones I send are reread as well. The warm fuzzies come back to me every time they are read. Sure, I use the electronic social sites and I’ve reconnected with folks through them, but the pleasure of getting that special envelope in the mail and seeing someone took the time to write those meaningful words lasts much longer than those few moments on-line. A hand written note expresses that a friend has given me a part of their time and shared with me a heartfelt message.
Little did I know I was on to something bigger than myself in so many ways.
Working for the university, I am self-compelled to take a few minutes and look up the research on gratitude to include in this article. Lo and behold, there is a good body of research out there, a few books and many published articles. In scanning through the summary paragraphs it seems I’ve been on the right track.
I stumbled across a research report from Harvard (Harvard Medical Center, Harvard Mental Health Letter, November, 2011, In Praise of Gratitude) (The article can be found at www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2011/November/in-praise-of-gratitude ). It pulled together everything I had been reading, thinking and processing as I reflected on gratitude and its role in my life.
One paragraph struck me: “Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”
The article was based on the research of positive psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, as well as citing studies done by their contemporary at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman. It listed ways to increase your gratitude. I was thankful to know the practices I’d adopted over my lifetime are the ones these prominent researchers had proven as ways to increase and sustain gratitude, and in turn, a good state of mental wellbeing.
Check it out. What they all say is that practicing gratitude takes time, is rewarded over time with the practice of being thankful, and contributes to a positive state of mental health.
Thanks, people in my life, for helping me to practice gratitude!
For more information about UNHCE and its programs, check out the website at: www.extension.unh.edu . For specific Grafton County programs, go to: http://extension.unh.edu/Grafton-County or check the events calendar sent to your local library.