We are habituated to look at the negative versus focus on the positive. Network news does it. Religion does it. We do it in our own conversations. Raised Catholic, Lent provided a season that often meant giving up something that was seen as bad or indulgent. Though I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, each year I ask myself how I will commemorate the Lenten season. As Fat Tuesday (the eve of Lent) approached, I was contemplating what to “give up” when I had an aha moment. To quote Oprah:
“I say the universe speaks to us, always, first in whispers… It’s that subtle. And if you don’t pay attention to the whisper, it gets louder and louder and louder. I say it’s like getting thumped upside the head. If you don’t pay attention to that, it’s like getting a brick upside your head. You don’t pay attention to that—the brick wall falls down.”
The universe was turning up the volume, surrounding me with the message of appreciation. At the Northwest Yoga Conference where I recently presented, the Saturday keynote speaker was Aadil Palkhivala who recommended practicing gratitude for any of us seeking happiness in our lives. The following Sunday’s sermon by Alicia Grace of the University Unitarian Church was on the subject of gratitude, where she referenced Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist who authored Living in Gratitude and quoted Pulitzer-Prize Winning Poet Mary Oliver, revering the ordinary. I just finished reading Raising Happiness in which Christine Carter emphasizes the benefits of gratitude in rearing children. Through Seattle’s Parent Coaching Institute, I’m working with Stacey Williams who integrates gratitude into each of our sessions with an appreciative inquiry approach. In my own work through Seeds Yoga, I urge students to practice gratitude.
I was finally hearing the message. I didn’t need to give something up. Instead I had the Lenten opportunity to commit to expressing gratitude for what I have.
So what does the research say? Robert Emmons and Charles Shelton, coauthors of the chapter Gratitude and the Science of Positive Psychology acknowledge that the rigorous study of gratitude is in it’s early stages. That said, here’s the latest out of the Greater Good Science Center on the benefits of practicing gratitude:
- Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More joy, optimism and happiness
- Acting with more generosity and compassion
- Feeling less lonely and isolated
In Martin Seligman’s positive psychology class at Penn, everyone writes a one page letter to someone who made a positive impact in their life. After writing the letter, he has them laminate it and arrange to read it to the recipient, preferably face to face. The feedback is resoundingly positive.
I urge you to do your own experiment, Lent or no Lent. Try the gratitude letter and/or commence a daily gratitude account either by journaling or, even better, voicing your appreciations at the dinner table with your loved ones. Then circle back here to report your results. In the meantime, you can join us on March 15th at 7pm for Prose+Pose™, a yoga book club where we will explore Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness in which he shares additional interventions to build joy in your life. Prose+Pose™ is held every third Thursday of the month at 5focus located in South Lake Union at 1009 8th AVE N, Seattle, WA. No time to read the book? No worries! Join us for the conversation to get the gist.