By Paula Lau
Imagine, if you will, the following scene…A sixty-something woman standing in a Baltimore park in Maryland. In her hand she has two leashes attached to two very rambunctious pug dogs. Suddenly one of the dog runs behind her and then swoops forward past her. The leash wraps around the back of her legs and in the most unkind way, she is swept off her feet. Next, a young woman huge with expected child jumps from a bench and runs to help the hapless woman. When she gets there she finds the woman with tears running down her face, but not with pain. The woman is laughing hysterically. That woman is my mother. My sister unwraps the dogs from around my mom and the two gather their dignity and walk back to the bench.
As Thanksgiving is upon us, I could think of no one better than my mother when it comes to someone who has modeled a thankful and joyful heart. Through the years she has consistently demonstrated the benefits of being thankful. Time and again, she’s encouraged me as well as countless others to look for the silver lining and to be thankful for the smallest things in life that we are given. As a result, I find my mother to be a woman who enjoys good health, lots of friends and energy. She uses that energy to travel, learn new things and be engaged in her community and family.
And that is not surprising. Psychologists, Emmons and McCullough and others, have done extensive research on the quality of thankfulness. They report that people who keep a gratitude journal (recording weekly events, people, etc. they were thankful for) exercised more regularly, had fewer physical problems and were more happy about their lives in general than those who recorded weekly hassles and problems that had occurred. If you want to feel more alert, enthusiastic and determined, focus on the things that make you grateful. One interesting note was that those who kept gratitude journals were also more likely to report having helped someone else out and engaged in offering social support to others. We can also help our children to be more thankful as well by teaching them to bring to mind the things they are grateful for. Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families (Froh, Selfick & Emmons, 2008).
As Thanksgiving is upon us, no doubt many of you look back on the past year measuring both joys and sorrows. Life regularly dispenses both. With one hand life is given and with the other it is easily taken away. At times this uncertainty is unnerving, at other times exhilarating. As we train ourselves to be thankful for the smallest things our lives will be better, sometimes only incrementally, but better nonetheless.
In a book I read as a young girl, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, I learned a profound lesson on thankfulness. Corrie and her sister, Betsy, were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for their role in helping Jews escape to freedom. At one point, the barracks they were sleeping in became overrun by fleas. The horrible jumping, biting pests were driving the inhabitants to distraction. Betsy encouraged them all to thank God for the fleas. In astonishment, the women all asked if she had lost her mind. How could they possibly be thankful for such a terrible thing? Betsy replied, “Haven’t you noticed? The guards do not come here and bother us because of the fleas.”
Thankfulness is an art we can all master no matter what our circumstances. Happy Thanksgiving.