Chuck, I’ve gone through a few hard times lately, and I am starting to believe that I don’t have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. I know you’re a big believer in the power of the brain. Anything you can offer me to help me shake my Thanksgiving blues? – Danny W. in Arkansas
I’m a firm believer that breakthroughs often come through brainpower and perseverance. And I know I’m not alone.
In fact, a few years ago, USA Today reported on a multiple-university study on the power of gratitude. The researchers discovered that gratefulness really is medicine for the soul. It can make you both healthier and happier.
The researchers found that those who practiced a thankful attitude lifted their moods, felt less stress and depression, felt less hostile, had lower blood pressure and had lower risks of several disorders, including phobias, bulimia and addictions to alcohol, nicotine and even food.
Gratefulness even can help us stop binging and mood eating over the holidays. And with studies showing that the average American gains 7 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that’s great news about which we all can be thankful.
As Chris Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, said, gratitude may not get people a new job or replenish their retirement accounts, but it can give them the energy they need to tackle their challenges.
How does being grateful break barriers in our lives?
Robert Emmons – professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis – explained: “When you express a feeling, you amplify it. When you express anger, you get angrier; when you express gratitude, you become more grateful.”
By nature, we easily notice what we don’t have or are missing. But just as with physical exercise, when we flex or push ourselves beyond our mental ability, we grow stronger inside.
Emmons put it this way: Practicing gratitude in these systematic ways changes people by changing brains that “are wired for negativity, for noticing gaps and omissions.”
These multi-university gratitude studies scientifically proved what most of us have known for a long time: When we are grateful for what we have, what we don’t have seems to have less and less of a stronghold in our hearts and minds. In short, grateful people don’t focus so much on their problems and pain.
Here are some ideas for working out your gratitude muscles in good times and tough ones:
- Practice gratitude each day by finding and stating something you’re grateful for.
- Write a note of thanks to someone.
- Keep a gratitude journal in which you write things you’re thankful for.
- Participate in a Thanksgiving church service in which people are publicly giving thanks to God and others.
- Use Thanksgiving as a time to initiate weekly times of sharing when you and loved ones share what you’re thankful for.
Neither I nor any researcher in this study is trying to minimize or look glibly upon human difficulty or even tragedy – and we’re definitely not saying that being thankful is easy in tough times. The point is that there’s a way to overcome through them – to discover breakthrough through brokenness.
Helen Keller demonstrated that way forward despite the fact that she was blind and deaf when she said, “So much has been given to me I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.”
Dare I say that if people such as Helen can do it, there is definite hope for all of us to see that we are more blessed than not.
In an essay adapted from his new book, “Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity,” Emmons noted: “But being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. Yes, this perspective is hard to achieve – but my research says it is worth the effort.”
There’s no greater example of gratitude in the grind than that of the Pilgrims, who landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620. Though they came to a new land, they were by no means foreigners to the territory of pain and difficulty. In fact, there was very little, if anything, easy about their lives. Remember that half of them died the first year they were in the New World.
Ron Lee Davis said in his sermon titled “Rejoicing in Our Suffering”: “The Pilgrims would not fully understand in their lifetime the reason for the suffering that beset them. The first official Thanksgiving Day occurred as a unique holy day in 1621 – in the fall of that year with lingering memories of the difficult, terrible winter they had just been through a few months before, in which scores and scores of babies and children and young people and adults had starved to death, and many of the Pilgrims had gotten to a point where they were even ready to go back to England. They had climbed into a ship and were in that harbor heading back to England, ready to give up. It was only as they saw another ship coming the other way, and on that ship there was a Frenchman named Delaware, and he came with some medical supplies and some food, that they had enough hope to go back and to try to live in the midst of those adverse sufferings. And yet they came to that first Thanksgiving with the spirit of giving and of sharing.”
Four hundred years later, there’s no doubt that thanksgiving (and thanks-living) is still born in adversity. So perhaps for many of us who are presently experiencing hardships, Thanksgiving Day means even more this year than it has in past years.
Thanksgiving was not meant to be bottled up in a single day. So let’s spread it out through each week of the calendar year and spread out that attitude of gratitude to every part of our mind, body and soul.
On that note, I’d like to finish this column by saying how thankful I am for my “C-Force” health and fitness column readers and the Creators Syndicate team who ensures its publication each week across the country.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.