An Attitude of Gratitude

I am reading the book The Compassionate Instinct , a collection of articles about the science of human goodness. One of the articles, “Pay It Forward”  by Robert A. Emmons shows how an attitude of gratitude results in people becoming more generous to others.

He begins by giving reasons why people lack gratitude: “We like to think that we are our own creators and that our lives are ours to do with as we please. We take things for granted. We assume that we are totally responsible for all the good that comes our way. After all, we have earned it. We deserve it.” Emmons shares about a scene from The Simpsons where Bart says grace at the table: “Dear God, we paid for all the stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” Emmons says that a grateful person sees a bigger picture in which we are all dependent on someone else for what we have.

Bernie and I experienced a particular year in our life together when we reported zero income. I have referred to it as “our year of poverty.” I have to be honest. I did not handle it well. But with hindsight, I have come to appreciate the lessons it afforded us such as compassion for the poor and a sense of the difference between our needs and our wants. But someone pointed out that we were able to pull out of the situations due to innumerable gifts from others. For example, our upbringings by middle class hard workers who were resourceful, the attention and care of those who helped us to relocate and helped Bernie to find a job, the availability of jobs during that time, Bernie’s parents who helped with his education and those who were his teachers, family members and friends who helped us get through the year. I wish I could have had this kind of awareness when we were actually living through that difficult year.

I know people today who are able to have gratitude even as the circumstances of their lives are dire. It is an amazing thing to witness. These are people who have been unable to find work or are suffering some pretty serious health issues. Hearing their words of gratitude is an inspiration to me – and humbling. It shakes me up a bit as I look at my paultry problems.

Emmons lists benefits to having an attitude of gratitude: (1) It strengthens social ties, “cultivates an individual’s sense of interconnectedness.” (2) It increases a sense of personal worth. “If someone has incurred a personal cost to helping me out, how can I not conclude that I have value in that  person’s eyes?” (3) It can reduce depression as it alters the attitude toward life in general. (4) It  motivates us to return the goodness we have been  given, thus perpetuating a cycle of giving and receiving, increasing happiness  in the world.

I’ve had it suggested that making it a practice to list the things for which you are  grateful can change your life. I think I will make a list today.

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6 Responses to An Attitude of Gratitude

  1. Mary Rohr says:

    You could also email me if you like.

  2. Geri Blad says:

    Judy, I am grateful for you.
    I’ve been reading your blogs for a while now – not daily, but every week or so I’ll log in and catch up on what you’ve had to say. It seems especially when I’m feeling “less than” I find myself turning to your blog. You have never failed to succeed in picking me up. You make me laugh, cry, feel and think. Not always in that order, but always. And while I’ve thought of commenting on occasion, for whatever reason I haven’t. Now though, I feel compelled to let you know that I so very much appreciate what you share.
    I don’t know that I’ll get to an actual list today, but I can start with this – as I know my life is already changed: I am grateful, and truly blessed, to know you. :o)

    • Judy says:

      Geri, thank you for the kind words. I am glad my thoughts are helpful to you. I missed your girls weekend…you girls make me “laugh, cry, feel and think”, too.

  3. Mary Rohr says:

    I spent some time reading over your blog this past weekend after my daughter, (who is a friend of your daughter) gave me the blog address. I thorougly enjoyed it; though I must admit I browsed through the trip and reunion stories, but read all the rest through in their entirety. We have lots in common and I laughed out loud at the story about your hair..which could be my hair! My husband and I graduated high school in 1966, and will be married 45 years this September. We have six children, ages 43-37 and 15 grandchildren who are between the ages of 21 and 2 years. I also love to write, have strong beliefs and a deep love of God. It was nice to read your blog and you are now in my favorites list so I can check back daily, though I am not a frequent commenter (except on my own daughter’s blog). I just wanted you to know I was out there, and thank you for your wonderful posts.

    • Judy says:

      So glad to meet you, Mary. Perhaps we will have a chance to talk about writing. I told your daughter, it sounds like we are in a similar place on our journeys.

  4. I love this post, Mom, because it brings me back to the cookbooks you gave me when my family was struggling. I learned to do so much on a shoestring, that I learned to appreciate the simple things in life. I am kicking myself right now, because I gave a self published book to Kate called “Simple Investments” or something, and now can’t find it online. I bought it by accident, thinking it had to do with investing in green businesses… but it was truly about investing in your community with kindness. If I find it, I’ll post it.

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