I’m not sure Hallmark has officially identified the months of November and December as The Season of Thanksgiving, but it’s certainly the time when we turn to thoughts of gratitude.
I’m not sure Hallmark has officially identified the months of November and December as The Season of Thanksgiving, but it’s certainly the time when we turn to thoughts of gratitude. We give ourselves permission to slow down, just a bit, to appreciate and spend time with family. We send messages of thanks and share news of the events and good fortune that’s come our way in the past twelve months. We practice the art of giving-- to the issues and people who need help, and we count our blessings.
Acknowledging and expressing gratitude isn’t limited to, or defined by a season. It’s a state of active consciousness that can become a lifestyle. Living a grateful life is a choice we can make and it turns out it’s good for us!
Psychologists Michael McCollough of Southern Methodist University and Robert Emmons of the University of California studied gratitude and its impact on well-being. They discovered that exercising daily gratitude resulted in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy. Additionally, those in the study who embraced gratitude as part of their daily living also experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more regularly, and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals.
The positive benefits of practicing gratitude extend to communities and the workplace as well. McCollough and Emmons found that when people act on their experiences of gratitude, they create meaningful situations for others. This has a multiplying effect that not only produces individuals who function at higher levels, but also produce organizations and communities that function at higher levels. It appears likely that organizations with employees who experience gratitude regularly have lower employee turnover, more customer loyalty, higher net sales and, in turn, more profitable financial outcomes.
What might it mean to live a grateful life? I’ve had some wonderful conversations with folks willing to consider this question. Many of their responses involved making a shift. Moving from the natural or automatic role of critic to the observer of good. Changing the habit of just getting through the day to intentionally looking for and embracing the positive things that happen each day. Focusing on how to make the most of what you have rather than how to get more of what you think you need. Moving from blaming others for making you the way you are to appreciating what they’ve done to enhance who you are. Growing from understanding that gratitude is a gift of the heart to knowing that practicing gratitude keeps the heart open regardless of what comes your way.
Other responses emphasized integration such as “living with appreciation, awe, humility, and wonder” as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Interconnectedness was a theme best illustrated by a quote shared with me. It’s from the work of Dr. Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist and teacher of the art and science of gratitude:
“The expression of gratitude creates an opening that invites many other positive states and experiences into our lives. While gratitude is both a feeling and an attitude, thankfulness is the demonstrative expression of it, whether extended to ourselves or others. We can express thanks in words—spoken or written—or in deeds, by extending time, resources, or gifts to support people in unexpected ways or to help those in need. Appreciation is the recognition of that which makes us feel grateful, and can also be expressed internally or externally. Gratitude often ignites acts of generosity; we are moved to offer ourselves to others without expecting anything in return.”
As alumnae of Kellogg Fellowship Programs, each of you was given a great gift. I encourage you to find ways this season and throughout your life to pay it forward by living a life of gratitude. Use the KFLA network to reach out and support one another, and share expressions of thanks. Perform acts of gratitude by sharing your time, talent and resources to support the network and each other.