“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” –Melody Beattie
As I write this piece, I am staring out my window looking at the beautiful sunrise. I want to share with you a bit of my daily routine, if you will bear with me for a second. Every morning besides having my two cups of coffee, exercising on the elliptical and answering early morning emails, I also go to the window and watch the morning sunrise. More often than not, I snap a photograph of the sunrise and I smile. I smile in gratitude. Every sunrise is a gift and I try to acknowledge that and start off my day knowing that no matter what comes ahead I am grateful for the day.
Why do I share this personal tidbit with you all? Because I believe in the power of gratitude. Too often we are caught up in our daily lives that have us coming and going in rapid succession. We make our daily to-do lists and go about checking off items from said list. We may get angry at someone who cuts us off in traffic. We may get angry because someone unfairly characterized us or our intention. I get that. Being treated unfairly is no fun, to speak colloquially. But how often do we express gratitude? Gratitude isn’t just for Thanksgiving.
As a psychologist, I must note that expressing gratitude is known to improve mental health. And as this is Mental Health Awareness Month, I’d be remiss in not bringing this to the forefront. In a research study from six years ago (Hill, Allemand, & Roberts, 2013), it was shown that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people. It has been specifically found that expressing gratitude can result in improved sleep, more frequent exercise and stronger cardiovascular and immune systems. Furthermore, years of research has shown that gratitude is important in the formation and maintenance of key relationships in our everyday interactions. Grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments and tend to thus feel better about themselves at the same time. What a beautiful world we could be if we all practiced some gratitude.
And as we age, we should show gratitude to our elders who have paved the way for us. In that vein, I’d like to acknowledge on this upcoming Memorial Day the men and women who died while serving to protect our country. We may be starting barbecuing season and summer camps are about to get underway, but I have talked to my son about what Memorial Day means and how we show gratitude to those who have died for us. A life given is never to be taken lightly.
In gratitude we can also express and show compassion as we enter the month long observation of Ramadan. As it says in the Koran, “If you are grateful, surely I will give you increase” (14:7). Through gratitude our hearts and being are filled.
Imam al-Ghazali (d.1111), a scholar, noted, “Every breath is like a priceless jewel, once gone can never be retrieved.” How beautiful a way to conceive of gratitude.
Collectively as a society, we are predisposed to thinking that technology helps with many of life’s daily aspects. There are even phone apps being considered to encourage people to be grateful. As a psychologist-scientist, I understand the considerations for developing an application to help in creating a gratitude intervention. But I ask, are we so far removed from humanity that we need technology to remind us to be grateful?
How about a low-technology gratitude idea? In a 2011 psychology study, it was found that writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer. And wake up happier. Oh, and don’t forget to catch that sunrise. During this holy month of Ramadan when you’re waking up for suhoor with your loved ones, it’s the perfect excuse to catch it every day. It is a thing of extreme beauty and awe. Never take for granted tomorrow’s sunrise.
In gratitude and Ramadan Mubarak!