Working out your gratitude muscles

In a Gallup survey, only 19% of people say they are satisfied with the way things are going in our nation. And in a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll, only 23% of people say that the country is heading in the right direction. Even in a CNN poll, bent toward a Democrat agenda, a whopping 72% of people say things in the U.S. are going badly.

The reasons for all this dissatisfaction? Though there are some signs of the economy improving, there is still a ton of uncertainty. Interest rates are still through the roof. Costs of everything are still way too high.

And what about the incubator of anger around our country and world? Have you ever seen more fury and divisiveness across our nation and on our airways? In the old days, it used to be we agreed to disagree agreeably, Now people pounce on those who disagree with them.

And then there’s the powder keg of what’s happening in the international community: the war between Israel and Hamas, 239 hostages from 25 countries remain underground in Hama tunnels in the Gaza strip, 61 attacks on U.S. military have occurred on U.S. bases in the Middle East since Oct. 7, the Ukraine war wages on, and mega-volatile relations continue to escalate between the U.S. and the axis of evil – China, Russia and Iran.

In addition to personal hardships, it’s very easy to see why tens of millions of Americans are finding it difficult to be grateful this Thanksgiving. But I’ve got the remedy, and I hope it will empower and encourage you. And most of all, I hope it will well up a spirit of gratitude in your heart no matter what you’re facing.

Earlier this year, UCLA Health reported on a multiple-university study on the power of gratitude. The researchers discovered that gratefulness really is medicine for the soul. It can make you both healthier and happier.

The researchers found that those who practiced a thankful attitude had better moods, felt less stress and depression, were less anxious, enjoyed improved sleep, felt less hostile, had lower blood pressure, and had lower risks of several disorders, including phobias, bulimia and addictions like alcohol, nicotine and even food!

USA Today reported, “Several studies have concluded that keeping a gratitude journal improves physical health. In 2015, a study of 119 women at the University College London found that just two weeks of keeping a gratitude journal can improve sleep quality and decrease blood pressure.

“Researchers at UC-San Diego came to a similar conclusion the following year. A study in 2016 of nearly 70 men and women at risk of heart failure asked participants to keep a gratitude journal for eight weeks. Researchers found that the participants who kept gratitude journals had lower levels of inflammation, a biomarker of heart failure.”

Gratefulness can even help us stop binging and mood eating over the holidays. And with studies showing that the average American gains seven pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that’s great news about which we all can be thankful!

As Dr. Chris Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, said: “Gratitude may not get people a new job or replenish their retirement accounts, but it can give them the energy they need to tackle their challenges.”

How does being grateful break barriers in our lives?

Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis, explained: “When you express a feeling, you amplify it. When you express anger, you get angrier; when you express gratitude, you become more grateful.”

By nature, we easily notice what we don’t have or are missing. But, just as with physical exercise, when we flex or push ourselves beyond our mental ability, we grow stronger inside.

Dr. Emmons put it this way: “Practicing gratitude in these systematic ways changes people by changing brains that are wired for negativity, for noticing gaps and omissions.”

UCLA Health further explained, “Taking a moment to be thankful causes physiological changes in your body that initiate the parasympathetic nervous system – the part of your nervous system that helps you rest and digest. Gratitude and the response it causes help bring down your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing to help with overall relaxation. … People with an attitude of gratitude tend to pursue goals that keep them feeling good – a positive attitude promotes positive action. They engage in activities that support healthy sleep, such as eating well and exercising regularly.”

These multi-university gratitude studies scientifically proved what most of us have known for a long time: When we are grateful for what we have, what we don’t have seems to have less and less of a stronghold in our hearts and minds. In short, grateful people don’t focus so much on their problems and pain.

Here are some ideas for working out your gratitude muscles in good times and tough ones:

  • Practice gratitude each day by finding and stating something you’re grateful for.
  • Write a note of thanks to someone.
  • Keep a gratitude journal in which you write things you’re thankful for.
  • Participate in a Thanksgiving church service in which people are publicly giving thanks to God and others.
  • Use Thanksgiving as a time to initiate weekly times of sharing when you and loved ones share what you’re thankful for.

As Dr. Peterson advises, if you feel slightly silly about any of the exercises, “fake it until you can make it.” Say “thank you” enough, he reasons, and your mind will fall in line with your words. Think you don’t have anyone to thank? Gratitude “doesn’t depend on circumstances,” Emmons says.

Neither I nor any researcher above is trying to minimize or look glibly upon human difficult or even tragedy – and we’re definitely not saying that being thankful is easy in tough times. The point is, that there’s a way to overcome through them: to discover breakthrough through brokenness.

Helen Keller demonstrated that way forward despite that she was blind and deaf, when she said: “So much has been given to me, I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.”

Dare I say, if people like Helen can do it, there is definite hope for all of us to see that we are more blessed than we think.

In his book, “Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity,” Dr. Emmons notes: “Being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. Yes, this perspective is hard to achieve – but my research says it is worth the effort.”

There’s no greater example of gratitude in the grind and hardship than the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620. Though they came to a new land, they were by no means foreigners to the territory of pain and difficulty. In fact, there was very little if anything easy about their lives. Remember, half of their number died the first year they were in the new world.

Ron Lee Davis recollects in his work “Rejoicing in Our Suffering” that: “The Pilgrims would not fully understand in their lifetime the reason for the suffering that beset them. The first official Thanksgiving Day occurred as a unique holy day in 1621 – in the fall of that year with lingering memories of the difficult, terrible winter they had just been through a few months before, in which scores and scores of babies and children and young people and adults had starved to death, and many of the Pilgrims had gotten to a point where they were even ready to go back to England. They had climbed into a ship and were in that harbor heading back to England, ready to give up. It was only as they saw another ship coming the other way, and on that ship there was a Frenchman named Delaware, and he came with some medical supplies and some food, that they had enough hope to go back and to try to live in the midst of those adverse sufferings. And yet they came to that first Thanksgiving with the spirit of giving and of sharing.”

Despite the grave difficulties and losses the Pilgrims faced, they still established “Thanksgiving” by giving thanks. They did that because their Geneva Bible (1560) commanded them to “Give thanks in everything.” Notice it said “in” everything, not “for” everything.

The Pilgrims knew giving thanks was the healing way through and out of the black tunnels of despair in this life. And it should be noted: God knew and prescribed the power of giving thanks in the Bible thousands of years before modern researchers discovered it!

Four hundred years later, there’s no doubt that thanksgiving (and thanks-living) is still born in adversity. So perhaps, for many of us who are presently experiencing hardships, this Thanksgiving might mean even more than in past years.

It’s no coincidence that God prescribes giving thanks in the Bible: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” God knew far in advanced of researchers today that giving thanks was great for us and the best way to overcome tough times, especially considering how we are hardwired for negativity.

Thanksgiving was not meant to be bottled-up in a single day. So, let’s spread it out through each week of the calendar year, and mostly extend your attitude of gratitude to every part of our mind, body and soul.

And one of the biggest bonuses to working out your gratitude muscles in December is: It gives a roundhouse kick to Mr. Grinch! Now, that’s Chuck Norris approved!

I’d like to finish this column by saying how thankful I am for my readers and my amazing editor, Ron Strom, who ensures its publication each week on WND, the first “free press for a free people” on the internet since 1997. And a big continued thanks to CEO and author Joseph Farah, who has been a good friend for two decades now. Indeed, thanks to the whole WND team!

From my amazing wife, Gena, whom I am daily thankful for beyond words, and myself, have a blessed and grateful Thanksgiving holiday!

(For more on the powers of fitness for mind, body and soul, please also read my weekly C-Force health & fitness column, which will be especially encouraging to you through the holidays and into the new year!)

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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