Thursday, November 8, 2018

This Year in Gratitude

Hooray, it's almost Thanksgiving. Even though I have a hard time with holidays, there's one thing that always gets me through: food. So Thanksgiving? Bring it on!

Today I want to share with you one of my favorite studies on gratitude. In my happiness workshops, I talk about gratitude, and I always share this study by Martin Seligman, who is one of the prominent researchers in positive psychology.

Seligman had his participants think of someone who'd had an impact on their lives whom they had not yet thanked. Then he asked them to write a letter of gratitude to that person and deliver it in person.

Immediately after the participants delivered their letters, they reported increased levels of happiness. A week later, they still reported higher levels of happiness. Then one month later, they were still happier than the control group.

This simple act of gratitude boosted their happiness for a pretty good chunk of time! Gratitude is a powerful tool in increasing subjective well-being (that's the scientific term for happiness - because they had to call it something more science-y than "happiness"). So think for a moment - who do you need to deliver that letter to? I know who mine needs to go to. I've known for years, but I haven't written it yet.

In the meantime, here are some things I am grateful for right now:

An Article of Clothing

I am thankful for elastic waistbands. I know there are all sorts of funny things to be said about stretchy pants, but from a realistic perspective, my waist expands and contracts throughout the day. Shouldn't my pants, too?

Waist expansion aside, I really like freedom of movement. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of sitting, but I appreciate being able to lunge at a moment's notice without fear of splitting a seam.

A Form of Movement

I love to dance. I won't say that I'm any good at it, but boy, I love it. Dancing is a part of my daily life. A couple months ago I sprained my ankle, and I couldn't dance for a few weeks. It was devastating. I missed entertaining my family with some pretty sweet Austin Power moves while we cleaned on Saturday mornings.

A Place

I'm very thankful for HOME. My home isn't perfect. It's full of chaos, and it's messy, but it feels safe, and it's mine. I realize my home is shared with several other people, but I am the manager. It's my project, my stewardship, my responsibility. It's a place where I will always have influence. Running my own home is one part of adulthood that I truly love. I don't consider myself a great homemaker, but I'm thankful for the opportunity to try anyway.

A Sound

I'm thankful for nom noms. I don't really like to hear people eating. I don't have misophonia or anything - I just think it's kind of gross. If I do have to hear the sounds of people eating, I want those sounds to be nom noms. Nom noms are themselves a form of gratitude.


This year I feel a bit guilty about the silly things I have to be thankful for. I mean, here I am expressing thanks for stretchy pants, and even though that gratitude is completely sincere, I realize that I live a frivolous and materialistic existence in which I get to be like, "Oh my gawsh!! I love elastic waistbands!!!"

The other day I laid in bed thinking about human suffering - about some of the worst things that have happened to people. Things I can't even fathom because my life has been so safe. 

Recently I snagged a copy of the book Slave Stealers by Tim Ballard and nearly read the whole thing in one sitting. Tim Ballard is the founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that rescues children throughout the world from sex trafficking. I've had the opportunity to hear Tim speak a few times, and his stories are hard but necessary to hear. 

One example (and I'll warn you, it's horrific, so skip this paragraph if you must) is the story of a thirteen year old girl who was taken from Mexico and trafficked to the United States where she was raped thirty to fifty times a day. She was "scheduled" every fifteen minutes. I don't even know how she lived through it, and I don't know how a person can even begin to heal emotionally or physically from something like that. 

Whenever I'm reminded of the depth of darkness that exists in this world, I think Who am I? 

Who am I to live in safety?

Who am I to whine about things like slow internet speeds and boogers on the wall?

Who am I to think I have problems?

It makes me feel like a schmuck, and I'm reminded of how truly selfish and spoiled I am, and how I need to be a better steward - not just over material comforts, but over the intangible things that bring light into the world. I have a lot of light in my life, and I take it for granted. Tim Ballard speaks often of light - it's something he needs to be incredibly sensitive to in order to do what he does. As he immerses himself in the darkest evils of this world, he has to be able to find and acknowledge light, or he won't be able to go on.

I think this year, that is what I need to be most grateful for - LIGHT!

I hope I'll become better at recognizing it and spreading it. I think sincere gratitude - whether it's gratitude for safety or gratitude for stretchy pants, or even gratitude for being safe while wearing stretchy pants - is one of the best ways to bring light into the world. 

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