Gratitude: a healthy recipe for Thanksgiving
Gratitude is an ethic that experts now see as equally secular and religious – not to mention a healthy recipe for Thanksgiving all year round.
On their first morning in this world of crayons and cubbyholes, the newbies at Narberth Presbyterian Church Nursery School find thankfulness at every turn.Skip to next paragraph
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"Yes, Abby's arm is hurt, but she got to choose the color of her cast. Isn't that neat?" observes longtime teacher Rosemarie Snarski. "No, I didn't make the juice. Mrs. Addy bought it for us at the store. Wasn't that so nice of her?" "No, Mommy's not here just yet, but guess what? We get to go to the gym now!"
And before the graham crackers and goldfish crackers, the teacher introduces gratitude, that staple of childhood far and wide: "God is great. God is good. And we thank Him for our food. Amen."
While the students here may be pint-sized, the ideas in play are huge. You may already know that gratitude ennobles a person, warms the hearts of people in his or her orbit, and generally improves life. If experts – secular and religious alike – are to be believed, gratitude may well be the holy grail of personal and societal well-being. If you're grateful, studies show, you are prone to be happier, less aggressive, and less depressed; to be more helpful, more satisfied with life, and have better friendships; to be more generous, less envious, and less concerned with prestige. You're even likely to have a higher grade-point average. What's more, you tend to be healthier physically and mentally. And practicing, as you do, a key component of strong moral character, and a virtue central to the world's great secular as well as religious belief systems, you can stand tall.
Leslie Matula, whose Project Wisdom has provided character-education plans to some 18,000 public and private schools nationwide since 1992, says the grateful heart boosts energy and determination, helping students avoid getting bogged down when they encounter challenges.
"Gratitude is all about attitude. And attitude is a choice," says Ms. Matula. "Gratitude is important because once you learn to look through that lens of life, everything shifts. You no longer find yourself focusing on what's wrong with your life but what's good about your life."
Never mind what you're thankful for. It's your grateful heart that's good for you. And it's good for the rest of us, too, suggests Jeffrey J. Froh, assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y., who has studied gratitude extensively. "People really, really like grateful people," he says.
But like other virtues, this one is under threat, as a culturewide move toward materialism, self-reliance, and entitlement clouds the give-and-take essential for gratitude, experts say.
"There sometimes seems to be a spirit of complaint in the air," observes Patricia Campbell Carlson, executive director of A Network for Grateful Living. As if in response, a cornucopia of thankfulness has spilled forth – via tweets, blogs, websites, and Facebook, through programs in the classroom and studies in the lab, through retreats and exercises, books and journals, workshops and symposiums, some New Age and others old-school. In spite of – or perhaps even because of – the cultural forces against it, says Ms. Carlson, "gratitude is also thriving."