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?” Â 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 scientificÂ 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 endorphinsÂ throughout our brain – just like a work-out at the gym. The art of giving thanks is an exerciseÂ that permeates our physical and emotional systems.
We are so careful to ensure that our thank you notes and words reach our benefactors. But ifÂ we really understood the power of gratitude, we would see that the act of giving thanks is oneÂ of the most selfish indulgences we can give to ourselves. Researchers at UC Davis are nowÂ calling gratitude the “forgotten factor” in happiness research.
Habitually expressing gratitudeÂ makes us less likely to notice what material things others have that we don’t. We begin toÂ realize the futility of ensuring we have the newest, and latest gadget to fill an empty void.Â Gratitude, just might be – no — it is, the magical elixir to cure of so many of the ills attributedÂ to our mad-paced modern society. Through this daily practice of “Three Good Things,” weÂ could end excess spending, stress, depression and anxiety. And with the positive effectsÂ gratitude has on our circulatory and respiratory systems, we might be able to make a dent intoÂ the national health care crisis.
Just try to hold the emotion of anger, guilt, defensiveness, resentment, irritability or fearÂ while holding the emotion of gratitude – can’t be done. The brain is a muscle, with a stubbornÂ temperament toward the negative. You can make gratitude your default by working your brainÂ out as the muscle it truly is, away from the negative and toward the positive. Work your brainÂ 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 whatÂ rises to the top the quickest are the disappointments, the frustrations and the anger. Yet,Â there is something else lurking underneath it all, and it comes as they wait. Once the firstÂ 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. OneÂ night my son had written the words “Pye, Zanfel, Fone” on his gratitude list. Pye was theÂ lemon meringue pie I made for dessert. Zanfel is the name of the Poison Ivy treatment weÂ found at Walgreen’s. Fone was for the telephone he used at school to call me to ask if I couldÂ take him home early because the Poison Ivy hurt him so much. Â The poison ivy by the way, was quickly spreading… he was beginning to look like this
againÂ — with swelled eyes.
I thanked him for his list. Yet, IÂ was unable to capture with words the level of gratitude that was stirring in my own heart.