What Is Gratitude?


…a feeling of thankful appreciation for favors or benefits received; thankfulness.
From Midieval Latin gratitudo from Classical Latin gratus, pleasing: grace.

Robert Emmons, perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two key components, which he describes in a Greater Good essay, “Why Gratitude Is Good.”

“First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

Over the past decade, hundreds of studies have documented the social, physical, and psychological benefits of gratitude.

Gratitude brings us happiness: gratitude has proven to be one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness and life satisfaction; it also boosts feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions. On the flip side, gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression.

Gratitude is good for our bodies: …gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and makes us less bothered by aches and pains. It also encourages us to exercise more and take better care of our health.

Grateful people sleep better: They get more hours of sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more refreshed upon awakening.

Gratitude makes us more resilient: It has been found to help people recover from traumatic events, including… veterans with PTSD.

Gratitude strengthens relationships: It makes us feel closer and more committed to friends and romantic partners. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship. Taken from an article found at http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude/definition

Living in my own self-made twisted version of life, I made my way slowly through a maze of heartache, grief and sorrow that was often self-induced. But that is behind me now and I can attest strongly to anyone who will listen: gratefulness is life changing. The difference is not swift, but it is certain and sure when practiced long-term. Today I am grateful for my gratitude that made me whole, taught me how to love and brought happiness to my life.

The miracle of gratitude
is that is shifts your perception
to such an extent
that it changes the world you see.
Dr. Robert Holden

Grateful In Greater Measure

This Thanksgiving morning I have spent about an hour reading email, sending holiday wishes and looking at the news of the day on-line while dimly in the back of my mind thinking about writing here. For this blog focused on gratitude, I first thought I wanted to leave some intricately bold and meaningful statement about the meaning of Thanksgiving. Instead the main theme my mind settled on is neither complicated or long. It’s only sixteen words:

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was,
“thank you,” that would suffice.
Meister Eckhart

Better than I have done on any previous Thanksgiving, my intention is to spend this day wrapped in a glow of sincere gratitude while asking for guidance in becoming an ever improving version of ‘me’.

There’s no record to be found for the original source or who wrote the piece just below. The words speak to the core of my being and state clearly my aspirations for living life well. I give humble thanks to the anonymous writer whose work so accurately reflects the philosophy of life I have adopted.

      • This is your life!
      • Do what you love. And do it often.
      • If you don’t like something, change it.
      • If you don’t like your job, quit. Now!
      • If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV.
      • If you are looking for the love of your life, stop. It will be waiting for you when you start doing thing you love to do.
      • Stop over analyzing, life is so simple.
      • All emotions are beautiful.
      • When you eat, appreciate every last bite.
      • Open you mind, heart and spirit to new things and to new people. We are united in our differences.
      • Ask the next person what you see what their passion is and share your inspiring dream with them.
      • Travel often.
      • Some opportunities only come once. Seize them.
      • Getting lost will help you find your self.
      • Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them. So go out and start creating with them.
      • Life is short. Live your dream and share your passion.

My short prayer for today:
Maker of all things and higher power
that guides me from the inside out;
May I learn to be grateful
in greater measure for all that comes to me;
May I more clearly see that pain is necessary for a balanced life;
May I learn the lessons being taught to me with less resistance;
May all those I love know the depth of feeling in my heart for them;
And May I fear death less and embrace life more.

 Originally posted here on November 22, 2012

Know When to Hold ‘Em


St. Thomas is a pretty island, but a busy one. Business took me there last week and while I enjoyed the visit after a few days I was ready to leave. The cruise ships spill people upon the island like a stomped on anthill creating a contrary experience to what I prefer. I’m more into laid back, casual, out-of-the-way destinations. However, there was one Virgin Island sexperience I will remember for the rest of my life.

Lester was my driver of the van that was summoned to take me to the airport. I was the only passenger and the morning was foggy and misty. My driver was probably somewhere in his late 60’s or early 70’s. While quiet for the most part he did have a smile that appeared genuine and eyes that still had a sparkle for life in them.

About half way to the airport Lester started singing a song at a very low volume that was almost imperceptible. However, here and there were familiar words that I could not place.

So I asked Lester what song he was singing and he replied “Kenny Rogers song called “The Gambler”. He made note that a movie had been made based on the song staring Kenny back when he still looked like Kenny. Then my driver picked up where he left off.

…Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for
Is to die in your sleep”

And when he finished speakin’
He turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette
And faded off to sleep
And somewhere in the darkness
The gambler he broke even
And in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep

When the chorus came around, I joined Lester for a duet as we softly sang together the words I knew from memory.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

Lester went on to do a rendition of “Coward of the County” that was soft and slow. He finished as we turned into the airport. Never will I forget the gentle soul who drove me to the airport on St. Thomas. I told him so and tipped big. An authentic smile came on his face  and our eyes locked for a moment. He said “take good care” and I responded “you too”. Now close to a week later the gratitude for the simple pleasure a stranger gave me is very much alive within. Thanks Lester. I hope you find “an ace you can keep”.

Maybe gratitude has nothing to do with joy.
Maybe being grateful means recognizing
what you have for what it is.
Appreciating small victories.
Admiring the struggle it takes simply to be human.
Maybe we’re thankful for the familiar things we know.
And maybe we’re thankful for the things we’ll never know.
At the end of the day, the fact that we have the courage
to still be standing is reason enough to celebrate.
Meredith Grey

Six Dreams

I dreamed six dreams, but I don’t remember them in words to express. I can share the value of more than a thousand words for each dream captured by showing you the photographs below. The musings in my mind between conscious and unconscious are more like feelings than aspirations… more like hope than expectations. Look into the images and see what dreams you find…
one Stunning-Backgrounds-Wallpapers-5

three Cancun_Stunning-landscape_3232

five 1920-1200-59876

seven ff80808141cad87b0141f1f0eb3d0689

four stunning_landscapes_40

six forever-love-9360392-500-356

Dreams of the countryside at dawn, the beach in the daytime, the ocean at night, a small quaint house, the mountains and of forever love. Everything begins in a dream that springs from hope, faith and imagination. Life is just about as beautiful and filled with wonder as I can conceive of it to be. There is as much to be grateful for when I pay attention.

Life is full of beauty. Notice it.
Notice the bumble bee, the small child,
and the smiling faces. Smell the rain,
and feel the wind.
Live your life to the fullest potential,
and fight for your dreams.
Ashley Smith

A Sense of Year-Round Gratitude

I feel gratefulness year round more than I have ever, but never as acutely as I do right now. I know this stretch of holidays from now until after first of the year will be a truly special time.

“Thanksgiving” by Edgar A. Guest
Gettin’ together to smile an’ rejoice,
An’ eatin’ an’ laughin’ with folks of your choice;
An’ kissin’ the girls an’ declarin’ that they
Are growin’ more beautiful day after day;
Chattin’ an’ braggin’ a bit with the men,
Buildin’ the old family circle again;
Livin’ the wholesome an’ old-fashioned cheer,
Just for a while at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother’s a little bit grayer, that’s all.
Father’s a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an’ to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin’ our stories as women an’ men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we’re grateful an’ glad to be there.
Home from the east land an’ home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an’ best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We’ve come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an’ be frank,
Forgettin’ position an’ station an’ rank.

Give me the end of the year an’ its fun
When most of the plannin’ an’ toilin’ is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin’ with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An’ I’ll put soul in my Thanksgivin’ prayers.

With a spirit of thankfulness and a sense of year round gratitude, I wish you peace that lasts, love that endures and the sense to appreciate them.

The very quality of your life, whether you love it or hate it,
is based upon how thankful you are toward God.
It is one’s attitude that determines whether life
unfolds into a place of blessedness or wretchedness.
Indeed, looking at the same rose-bush,
some people complain that the roses have thorns
while others rejoice that some thorns come with roses.
It all depends on your perspective.
Francis Frangipane

Taken from a post titled “The Day Before The Day Before Thanksgiving” originally posted on November 20, 2012

About a Year Ago…

A Precious Privilege

michael-yamashita-landscape-travel (1)

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought,
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

A quote by G.K. Chesterton I have personal proof of.

Gratefulness has a power to attract what I need and hope for; people from the past I lost but wanted to make contact with; money I needed arrived unexpectedly. With a grateful mind I sleep better; I am more productive; ALL my relationships are improved; life tastes better; I have more to look forward to. On and on to the point of near ad nauseam, beyond a doubt this has been proven to me in the last two years of writing here about gratitude every day.

Researchers in the field of gratitude, Psychologists Robert Emmons at the University of California at Davis, and Michael McCullough, at the University of Miami, have learned what I know without research: gratitude is really good for you.

In an experimental comparison Emmons and McCullough found people who take the time to keep a gratitude journal on a regular basis exercised more often, reported fewer physical issues, generally felt better about their lives, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who kept track of hassles or neutral life events. Another benefit found was participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to make progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based).

Other Research has turned up physiological benefits of gratitude. It has been found when we think about someone or something we really appreciate and experience the feeling that goes with the thought, the parasympathetic – calming-branch of the autonomic nervous system – is triggered. This pattern when repeated brings a protective effect to the heart. The electromagnetic heart patterns of volunteers tested become more coherent and ordered when they activated feelings of appreciation.

There is evidence that when we practice bringing attention to what we appreciate in our lives, more positive emotions emerge. In a sort of positive pyramid effect, the more I pause to appreciate and show caring and compassion, the more order and coherence I experience internally.

Thank goodness research on gratitude has now challenged the idea of a “set point” for happiness. It was previously accepted that just as our body has a set point for weight, each person probably had a genetically determined level of happiness. Once upon a time I bought into that and believed since I suffered from moderate depression at times, I was doomed to have a set point of lowered happiness. Research on gratitude now suggests that people can move their set point upward to some degree, enough to have a measurable effect on both their outlook and their health. This works. My altered for the better state of mind is proof.

Emmons and McCullough said the following to their research subjects:
Cultivate a sense of gratitude’’ means that you make an effort to think about the many things in your life, both large and small, that you have to be grateful about. These might include particular supportive relationships, sacrifices or contributions that others have made for you, facts about your life such as your advantages and opportunities, or even gratitude for life itself, and the world that we live in. In all of these cases you are identifying previously unappreciated aspects of your life, for which you can be thankful.

Over a hundred and fifty years ago Ralph Waldo Emerson knew this when he wrote, the invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.

A metaphor for my experience of focusing on gratitude is comparing it to exercise and physically work out. If I had spent an hour or more EVERY day for over a year and a half working out and getting exercise, I would be in the best physical condition of my life. The level of happiness I have and the belief I have in the future good that will come to me are at “body-builder” levels. Gratitude is the magic “supplement” that has made it so.

When you arise in the morning,
think of what a precious privilege
it is to be alive, to breathe, to think,
to enjoy, to love; then make that day count!
From “Life, the Truth and Being Free: by Steve Maraboli

RE-post from December 27, 2012

Believe In Love More Today

I was in love with love before I knew what it was. When one lives with lack of affection as I did as a young child, the yearning to fill that hole starts early and never completely leaves. Even understanding today what went on when I was a kid placed an unnecessary deep need within does not diminish my desire to be loved and appreciated. That’s ironic because love is also fairly scary for me.

In regards to love I frequently have not known exactly what to do or say, but always have wanted to do it to perfection. Without a stutter or hesitation has been how I have desired to express my truest feelings, yet hesitated and had great difficulty successfully following through on my intention. Or else I go too far and gush forth with such expression of feeling the object of my affection does not what to do with it all. I’m great with family and friends, but in a romantic relationship I always feel like I am thirteen years old again; an unsure, stumbling boy. And that is the charm of it all; I am still excited about the possibilities of love.

Even today I am not tired of love as so many in middle age seem to be. “Been there, done that” is the attitude I hear often from singles in my peer group. The “put downs” of the opposite gender are often spoken by such people frequently as a cover for their bad choices. I have made no shortage of wrong turns. BUT till my last dying breath I will never adopt such a ‘down on love’ attitude.  I’ve made my mistakes, but believe in love more today than I ever have.

From one of many of the books I have accumulated on love comes the following advice:

What does the one you love really want from you? The answer is “you”. So that’s what you ought to give. “You”, in your own style and own words. Don’t try to write like a poet, unless that’s what you really want to do. The point is, you don’t have to write like a poet to say what you want to say, nor is that the standard you will be judged by.

What you will be judged by is feeling, thoughtfulness, enthusiasm and, most of all, sincerity. Could any poet convey those qualities to the one you love better than you? Not Shakespeare himself!

Letting go of your inhibitions will add immeasurably to the enthusiasm that you feel and transmit. And in communication, enthusiasm is as contagious as it is credible. The real you, and the assurance that you love him or her in your own way, in your own words. That’s what he or she wants to hear and see from you. Nothing more, nothing less.

Remember too, you are writing to only one person who is not going to judge you like an English teacher, because that person is your most understanding friend and is interested in one thing: to know how you feel about her or him, in your own words.

How can you lose? Your audience is totally on your side, and all it wants is what you and you alone are capable of delivering. An honest expression of your love that will be as individual as your fingerprint. From “You Don’t Have To Be A Poet To Put Your Love Into Words” by James D. Donovan

With great gratitude I say, “I am deeply grateful for the ability to love and can be loved”. My openness for love is a gift that goes against the grain of age. I am thankful for that.

In the one we love, we find our second self.
Love is the beauty of the soul.
To love abundantly is to live abundantly,
to love forever is to live forever.
There is exquisite beauty in the heart that cares and loves.
Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

First posted here on October 17, 2012

Wind in the Trees


I find what I go looking for. What I expect seems to manifest itself before me with great frequency. My thoughts shape my life more than any other single factor. Today I feel great and am loving life. With that spirit I choose to begin my day with a thought by Henry Drummond:

…to love abundantly is to live abundantly, and to love forever is to live forever…

With intention I hope to be more aware today than usual and live closely to the ending passage from the book “Contemplate” by Gwen Frostic, punctuated just as she originally wrote and published it:

Savor each moment of beauty –
The majestic – – and the simple . . .

Listen to silence – – –
that in itself
renders all words meaningless . . . . .

Feel the wind in the trees – – –
The ebb and flow of the tides – – –
Wild wings soaring high – – –
– – – the timeless rhythm of life . . . . .

Dream of stars shining over head – – –
– – of the mystic kinship
that underlies all life . . . . .

Keep a sense of wonder –
and of awe – – – –
– – – – forever

Some mornings I am nearly overtaken with gratefulness to be alive. I relish those days when I begin well and know whatever comes, it will be an outstanding day. What  joy to be conscious and able to witness and experience all I will get to smell, feel, hear, taste and see! Come pain or pleasure, trouble or ease, happiness or grief… it will be a good day. I am grateful to be alive!

You will find as you look back upon your life
that the moments when you have truly lived
are the moments when you have done things
in the spirit of love.
Henry Drummond

First posted here on August 28, 2012

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

mountain roadMentally strong people have healthy habits. They manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that set them up for success in life. Check out these things that mentally strong people don’t do so that you too can become more mentally strong.

Text of article removed by request by original author. Go to link below to view.

Taken from an article by Amy Morin http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/13-things-mentally-strong-people-dont.html

I am grateful for the reminder to practice what I already know. It is not the knowing that matters. It’s the doing!

I have a simple philosophy:
Fill what’s empty.
Empty what’s full.
Scratch where it itches.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth

The Pain to Stay the Same


More than usual this week I have been experiencing a feeling of gratitude for the quality of my life today. In looking over my shoulder I can see what appears now to be a somewhat straight line path that brought me from where I was to where I am. However, from where true change began to present day the path I walked was much different. It actually zigzagged all over with a greatly varied pace containing many stops, starts, successes and failures.

The beginning: “When the pain to stay the same exceeds the pain to change, you change.”

The first time I saw those fourteen words was on a bulletin board. They have been burned into my psyche ever since. The initial glimpse was at the time when realizing I could not read or learn myself into life changes through applying my intellect. I had to do the emotional work and face what I had long avoided.

Lobsters grow by molting, or shedding their shells. When its shell has been shed the lobster spends time under a rock or in a crevice while growing a new shell. During that time the lobster is vulnerable without the protection of its old hard shell.

The process of “change” caused me to feel a lot like a lobster. For a while it had been evident to me I was stuck inside a hard shell that resulted from childhood abandonment and abuse. It was stifling me. I needed to shed the old casing and grow a new one. I had to be vulnerable in order to change. Yet, doing what I needed to do felt impossible at the time. I could not muster the courage to “jump in and do it”, but knew not changing meant I would continue to suffocate in my old shell.

Did I muster the courage to shed the safety of my old hard outer armor plate and jump into the sea of change? No! I wish I could say I became brave enough to do that. Instead life events came along and left me only with drown or swim options. My old shell was shattered and stripped away and then “the pain to stay the same exceeded the pain to change”.

Pain and discontent was stage one of my growth and change. Suddenly I saw myself more clearly and could view my past at least with some accurately. As if being slugged, the force of it crushed my shell and figuratively “knocked the wind out of me emotionally”. Getting knocked down and broken open was step #1.

Admitting I had problems was stage two of my growth and change. There had to be an end to my running away. I had no choice but to let the issues take me over. Opening up and allowing myself to feel the full force of what I had so long avoided was what I needed. Accepting my issues was step #2.

Realizing I needed help was stage three of my growth and change. One of the effects of childhood trauma can be to become an overly self-reliant and a seemingly needless adult. I became quite good at denying my own needs. Seeking outside aid was rarely an allowed possibility. Accepting that I needed help was step #3.

Doing the work was stage four of my growth and change. Being one who wants to begin today and have everything accomplished tomorrow, this step was difficult. Coming to grips with my dysfunction took lots of time. Gaining the upper hand on it took much longer and now spans years. Putting in the time and making a long-term effort was step #4.

The realization I was getting better was stage five of my growth and change. At first it seemed as if nothing was changing, but over time I began to feel a little different. Life began to taste better. The better I got, the more I wanted. Working past setback and disappointment without completely losing my momentum became a key for me. Realizing I could heal was step #5.

Real change takes a long time. Clinical perspective says real personal change takes at least three years to be fully implemented. That is why small changes I made and continued to repeat over a long period of time have yielded a positive impact. On my path there has been an abundance of stubbornness and hanging on to the past combined with emotional dread and frightful depression at times. What began with “baby steps” and became one step at a time, one day at a time has now several years later brought me to much better mental and spiritual health. There is joy for living I have not known before.

I am not fixed and will never be completely. The scars will always remain, but I am better and continuing to improve. To even try to express the quantity of thankfulness I have for my life today would be completely futile. I am grateful to a power greater than me for the inspiration and to every person who has helped me along the way.

Change is not made without inconvenience,
even from worse to better.
Richard Hooker

First posted on August 26, 2011