Would I still be able to dig out a treasure in our Superman Gratitude Journal? Now that the boys are getting older, would their little lists still have “melt-your-heart” treasures like “getting my brother out of the crib?” or “running through the dust when Dad blows the leaves with the leaf blower?” Yet, I found one. Several, actually. But here’s one treasure. From my newspaper column.
As my boys struggle each night to fill their list of “Three Good Things,” I realize that this exercise of gratitude takes just as much physical exertion as running across the soccer field to maneuver the ball into the net for a goal. Based upon the mounting stack of scientific research, the act of giving thanks alters our brain chemistry, and this filters through our body to improve our blood pressure, respiration and heart rates while sending endorphins throughout our brain – just like a work-out at the gym. The art of giving thanks is an exercise that permeates our physical and emotional systems.
We are so careful to ensure that our thank you notes and words reach our benefactors. But if we really understood the power of gratitude, we would see that the act of giving thanks is one of the most selfish indulgences we can give to ourselves. Researchers at UC Davis are now calling gratitude the “forgotten factor” in happiness research.
Habitually expressing gratitude makes us less likely to notice what material things others have that we don’t. We begin to realize the futility of ensuring we have the newest, and latest gadget to fill an empty void. Gratitude, just might be – no — it is, the magical elixir to cure of so many of the ills attributed to our mad-paced modern society. Through this daily practice of “Three Good Things,” we could end excess spending, stress, depression and anxiety. And with the positive effects gratitude has on our circulatory and respiratory systems, we might be able to make a dent into the national health care crisis.
Just try to hold the emotion of anger, guilt, defensiveness, resentment, irritability or fear while holding the emotion of gratitude – can’t be done. The brain is a muscle, with a stubborn temperament toward the negative. You can make gratitude your default by working your brain out as the muscle it truly is, away from the negative and toward the positive. Work your brain out with the same diligence as you should be working out your heart muscle at the gym.
When I sit my boys down each night to turn their brains around, to name their gifts,they must physically stop their bodies from twitching, so they can concentrate. This work takes focused time, as what rises to the top the quickest are the disappointments, the frustrations and the anger. Yet, there is something else lurking underneath it all, and it comes as they wait. Once the first good thing finally pops out, the second and third come faster, and soon, there are eight,instead of three good things.
The thank you lists that result from this concentrated, stillness can be deeply insightful. One night my son had written the words “Pye, Zanfel, Fone” on his gratitude list. Pye was the lemon meringue pie I made for dessert. Zanfel is the name of the Poison Ivy treatment we found at Walgreen’s. Fone was for the telephone he used at school to call me to ask if I could take him home early because the Poison Ivy hurt him so much. The poison ivy by the way, was quickly spreading… he was beginning to look like this
again — with swelled eyes.
I thanked him for his list. Yet, I was unable to capture with words the level of gratitude that was stirring in my own heart.