Meister Eckhart, the famous Christian mystic of the 14th century, said, "If the only prayer you say in your whole life is 'thank you,' that would suffice." And surely, the easiest form of prayer is "Thank You."
- The traffic light changes to green as we approach a busy intersection -- "Thank You!"
- A parking spot appears at the grocery store's front door -- "Thank you!"
- The doctor announces that the tests were negative -- "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"
How many times do we mutter "Thank You" each day, mindlessly and without conviction? What would happen if we put emotion, feeling and structure behind those little "spiritual shout-outs?"
It appears that the answer can now be measured and validated by scientific research. The benefits of gratitude are empirical according to two university happiness researchers in a 2004 report. In the subsequent book, The Psychology of Gratitude, Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough, call gratitude "the forgotten factor in happiness research." Together, the two co-researchers from University of California, Davis and University of Miami, have discovered significant benefits of maintaining an "attitude of gratitude" such as:
- Those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week.
- Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals.
- A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with you young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy.
- Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem.
- Grateful people are more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to and responsibility to others.
- Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.
- Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.
But the key benefit of gratitude is this: Gratitude dissolves fear.
That's right. It's impossible to be full of fear if you're truly grateful -- you know the feeling, so grateful that your eyes well up with tears. That kind of gratitude can be cultivated. For every moment of fear, we can create a response of gratitude.
Don't even go there. Sure, you've got problems. Yes, your situation is different and you're unique. But fear can be foiled. Read this example of a gratitude prayer. Pay close attention to the circumstances of its discovery...
Lord, remember not only the men of good will, but also those of ill will. Do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us.
Remember rather, the fruits we have wrought, thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, and the greatness of heart that has grown out of this.
And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits we have bourne be their forgiveness.
This prayer of grtitude was found on a scrap of paper in a rancid dormitory at the liberation of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany at the end of World War II.
Never did a more fearful, nor hopeless situation exist, and yet here we see gratitude acting as an antidote to fear.
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