TRAIL, B.C. -- Has the practice of being thankful fallen out of favour?
I practise a very simple habit to remind me to be thankful on a daily basis: My husband and I say grace before every meal. Although I will admit it is often more pro forma than mindful, still, the habit reminds me to express thanks to God.
While my practice of saying grace is clearly theistic, it does not have to be so. In fact, a member of our family -- because of his beliefs -- has a different way of expressing thankfulness. When we dine at his home, we each take turns to express how grateful we are for something about our day.
I like his way of being thankful, because it is inclusive: No one is forced to sit politely and awkwardly by while others pray, and everyone, regardless of the quality of their day, can think of a reason for which to be thankful.
Equally important, this little ritual of thanksgiving requires intentionality: It forces us to look back on the day and consider the good things in our lives. It increases our appreciation for those things we might otherwise take for granted, and it refocuses our attention on the things that truly matter.
A growing body of research looking at the role of gratitude in human happiness indicates the ability to be thankful contributes to human flourishing. The studies suggest people who orient themselves toward gratitude seem to be happier, more empathetic, more forgiving and more willing to help others. They feel a greater sense of connection with others and with the natural world, and they enjoy mutually reciprocal, sustaining relationships.
They tend to be more spiritually inclined, recognizing they exist in a web of transcendent relationships. But becoming a more thankful person is no easy matter.
Gratitude requires effort and practice. From my reading about gratitude and personal experience, I have come to believe spiritual disciplines, such as meditation, prayer, reading inspirational literature or participating in religious ceremonies, can contribute to the cultivation of gratitude as a disposition that informs thought, word and action.
But gratitude does not stop with a simple "thanks" for something that has made us happy on any given day. Gratitude helps us to 'get over ourself' and encourages a 'pay it forward' attitude.
It was a recent shopping excursion to buy some Thanksgiving-themed napkins -- and not being able to find any -- that prompted me to wonder if we have indeed become an ungrateful lot. The feelings of happiness we derive from external events -- such as receiving a gift, purchasing something new, being praised for an accomplishment -- are pleasurable and sweet, but they are not gratitude. Gratitude is a lingering disposition of the heart that delights in relationships in the natural world, and with an understanding that there is more to life than meets the eye.
Louise McEwan has degrees in English and theology. She blogs at www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com.