As human beings, we tend to dwell mostly on the negative aspects of life such as, “I’m unhappy,” “I don’t like my boss,” “Mom likes my sister better than me” and the list goes on and on. I’m no better than the next because I complain about any number of things, and getting older is right up there at the top. What do I expect, after all, I’ve been around for quite some time.
“To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living,” someone once said. I couldn’t agree more.
But the truth is that most of us, even in these most difficult of times, have so much for which to be thankful. To check this out, I began jotting down what I thought would be a short list of the things in my life for which I am grateful. I was surprised to find that my list went into a couple of pages and I haven’t finished yet.
I had no idea that there are those who study gratitude from every angle, but a group of University of California, Berkeley researchers study the subject year-round.
The Greater Good Science Center was founded in 2001 and their goal is not only to understand how gratitude works, but also how to build a healthier and kinder society. Some maintain that we Americans are one of the most individualistic and self-focused civilizations in human history.
Author Rhonda Byrne says that we could begin to change that and writes about people who changed their lives dramatically when they began to practice gratitude every day. Byrne maintains that just saying thank you on a daily basis could go a long way toward making meaningful changes in our lives.
One of my favorite things to do is to read the old “Benjamin Franklin Almanac of Wit, Wisdom and Practical Advice.”
Franklin was not a president, an imminent professor, a professional athlete or a movie star, someone said, but if you’re looking for some sound advice, he’s the best. I ran across this quote: “If the only prayer you said in your entire life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
Researchers maintain that showing gratitude can increase happiness, achievement and life satisfaction. It’s not easy, though: Gratitude will take practice. Other studies report that teenagers who learn appreciation have a greater sense of purpose and understanding of what’s most important in life.
I do know parents and teachers who also teach children early on that gratitude is not just about being thankful for what they receive but also about giving back. That’s why many parents take their children with them to volunteer at homeless shelters, senior citizen facilities and other places.
“If you practice gratitude a little, your life will change a little. If you practice gratitude a lot every day, your life will change dramatically, and in ways you can hardly imagine,” Byrne wrote.
She shares some ways that we can practice bringing gratitude into our lives every day:
I’ll end my column, which was written on Christmas Day, with a quote written by Franklin in 1757: “Happiness depends more on the inward disposition of mind than on the outward circumstances.”
I wish everyone a belated Merry Christmas and the best New Year ever.
Mayrene Bates is a trustee on the Solano County Board of Education.