Gratitude in Motion
Point to Ponder:
Who and what are you grateful for?
Over the past few weeks the sun sets in San Diego have been spectacular--like a paint explosion in the sky. They have been so incredibly stunning that around 4:45 p.m., when the sun begins to set, the kids and I dash outside and run down the street for a perfect view of surprise in the sky. On occasion, a hot air balloon or two will float amongst the setting sun and holy cow....that's double the magic! For sure this special time is an opportunity for me to take delight in the gifts that surround us and give thanks.
For the past five years, the week before Thanksgiving iGnite has used the last five to seven minutes in each of our classes to focus on gratitude and put thankfulness into motion by means of writing a grateful gram. A grateful gram is a hand-written gratitude note to someone you are grateful for. Then, after writing and addressing it, the grateful gram is handed back to our iGnite leader. iGnite takes care of postage and makes sure that the grateful gram is in the mail by the Monday before Thanksgiving.
Also over the past five years, approximately 1800 grateful grams have been delivered to their surprised and delighted recipients by the week of Thanksgiving. We are hoping that as a result of the grateful grams being written this week, we can exceed 2000! This gratitude activity is a sweet and unexpected gift that feels just as good to write as it does to receive. The reason we started this tradition is because having gratitude and expressing gratitude is essential to living our best, most healthy and joy-filled life. Even though it's easy to see that people who are grateful are happier and healthier, for skeptics, scientific findings never hurt. Check out the impressive list of psychological and physical results that expressing gratitude has proven to provide:
Stronger immune system
Improved cardiovascular function
Less likelihood of depression
Deeper sense of purpose
Better coping strategies
According to a fascinating article in SUCCESS Magazine titled The Health Benefits of Gratitude, Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis and founder/director of the Emmons Lab. Emmons and his team are at the forefront of a growing body of research that provides hard data to support the philosophy that gratitude can improve our health and reveals that "Gratitude is our best weapon, an ally to counter internal and external threats that rob us of sustainable joy. Left to our own devices, our minds tend to hijack every opportunity for happiness. Negativity, entitlement, resentfulness, forgetfulness and ungratefulness all clamor for our attention. Weighed down by negativity, we are worn down, emotionally and physically exhausted."
Through various gratitude practices, Emmons and his colleagues have observed a wide range of psychological and physical benefits, ranging from lowering blood pressure and cholesterol to reducing anxiety and the risk of depression. Other researchers point out that expressing gratefulness also improves interpersonal connections—all from just taking a minute or two to stop and say “thank you” to a co-worker who helped you in a bind or a friend who baked you cupcakes. Emmons says, “In gratitude, we focus on the giftedness of life. We affirm that goodness exists, even among the rancor of daily life. This realization is freeing, redeeming. Gratitude works.”
Research at UC Davis has linked gratitude with a 23 percent decrease in levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. That relief alone can have far-reaching health benefits. For instance, in one Emmons study, subjects who kept a gratitude diary for two weeks showed a sustained 28 percent reduction in perceived stress and a 16 percent drop in perceived depression. The UC Davis study also showed that two activities—counting blessings and penning thank-you letters—reduced the risk of depression in at-risk patients by 41 percent over six months. Subjects keeping journals took in less dietary fat by as much as 25 percent, and grateful respondents’ Hemoglobin A1c, a marker for diabetes, dipped by between 9 and 13 percent.
Emmons says personal awareness of what we’re thankful for is only the first step. Expressing that gratitude, either verbally or through an action or gesture, is how we build successful and supportive relationships. “Without gratitude we’d be in relational ruin,” Emmons says.
And so, with that persuasive information, here's to week of putting our gratitude in motion, both verbally and in writing, and enjoying the numerous life and relationship-giving benefits!
Think of the people for whom you are grateful for and write a grateful gram to them or tell them in person.