Author: Julie Matthews
November 24, 2016
A few years ago, while waiting for my yoga class to start at the local community center, I overheard some children expressing joy over free snack bars they received from the desk attendant: “We’re the luckiest kids in the world!” they yelled. I laughed to myself and thought “they aren’t even chocolate bars…what child is excited by a healthy snack bar?!”. Then I felt ashamed for making fun of their enthusiasm.
Throughout my sun salutations, warrior poses and savasana, I replayed their joyous exclamations and wondered if perhaps I had forgotten what it was like to be truly grateful. Funny that I was there to exercise and practice mind-body awareness, but somehow hadn’t grasped one of the most basic tenets, something my yoga teacher mentions often: be grateful…grateful for your health, grateful you are able to practice, grateful for loved ones, grateful for anything that enriches your life and brings you peace and happiness.
I began reading more about gratitude, and I discovered its benefits go far beyond being known for good manners. From better sleep to improved psychological and physical health, gratitude is an essential building block for a healthy and happy life (“7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round”).
When I was diagnosed with leukemia, my mom and I used the old Pollyanna trick and played “The Glad Game”. On one tough day, I remember being glad for Kleenex from home (as opposed to the sandpaper-like hospital version). We laughed at the silly things we came up with, and it felt powerful to be able to create joy in such a scary and uncertain situation.
Some people focus their careers on happiness and gratitude. In fact, there is an educational center at UC Berkeley whose sole focus is in the psychology, sociology and neuroscience of well-being. Gratitude is a core theme at The Greater Good Science Center, along with altruism, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, happiness and mindfulness. Researchers at The Greater Good Science Center not only study the effects of gratitude, but they also offer recommendations for cultivating it.
In “10 Ways to Become More Grateful”, UC Davis professor and gratitude expert Robert Emmons, outlines tips for developing gratitude. His 1st tip, keeping a gratitude journal, is especially intriguing to me, and according to his research, it is incredibly effective: “those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events” (Gratitude and Well-Being).
It makes sense that when you recognize the positive, your perspective of everyday challenges is altered or as famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden shared in his book They Call Me Coach, “Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.” Here, once again, the value of the Glad Game can be seen! I challenge you to try it out the next time you’re having a rough day, and a rough day needn’t be as serious as facing a cancer diagnosis…although clearly that brings incredible perspective to life’s little worries! Eight years out from my stem cell transplant, I play the Glad Game in traffic (I have so many awesome podcasts to listen to!), at the gym (spin class may be kicking my butt, but I am so glad my body is healthy enough to work up a sweat!), when I have loads of laundry to do (clean clothes smell so good!)…the list could go on, but I’m sure you get the point!
So when you sit down to the dinner table this Thanksgiving, summon the enthusiasm of those children with the free snack bars and find joy in your gratitude. Make it a daily exercise to be thankful and don’t forget to express it! As William Arthur Ward wrote, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Be generous in your thankfulness and life’s challenges will feel less intimidating, for there is beauty and happiness to be found in even the worst situations…even if it’s just a simple box of Kleenex.
For some inspiring TED talks focused on gratitude, visit Eat Spin Run Repeat. Share your advice below for how to live a grateful life.