Gratitude: A Matter of Character

Gratitude: A Matter of Character

ThanksgivingCarol Soelberg

I love November and December and that they bring with them a joyous season of “THANKS” and “GIVING”.  With a grateful heart to each of you for your continued support in strengthening the families of the world, I offer a few personal thoughts on gratitude.

One of the great influences in my life is my grandmother Mynoa Andersen.  She left with me the legacy of a grateful heart.  I heard her often say: “I spend half of my time counting my blessings and the other half thanking God for them, and that leaves no time left to feel sorry for myself.”  Blessings? I used to think as I recalled her life as a widow of nearly 40 years, raising most of her children alone.  She endured the loss of two homes, one in a flood, and one they were driven from.  She lived much of her life in what might today be considered dire poverty.  Yet to her, she felt blessed beyond measure, for all she could see were the blessings.  I learned from Grandmother that gratitude is a matter of character not circumstance!

Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation and thankfulness for blessings or benefits we have received. It is an uplifting, exalting emotion.  Those who cultivate a grateful attitude are more likely to be happy and emotionally strong. (Please scroll down and you can see some of the research on the “Science of Gratitutde.”)  Have you ever know a person with a heart full of gratitude to be bitter, resentful, or mean-spirited.  I do not believe such emotions can exist together.  I learned from my Grandmother that a thankful heart is a happy heart!

Gratitude when truly felt, demands expression.  We can be thankful to our parents, family, friends, and teachers. We can express appreciation to everyone who has assisted us in any way.  I will never forget the year our family decided to consciously thank people who did things for us routinely that we usually took for granted: the clerk in the grocery store, our teachers in school. We even thought of the mailman.  We decided to write a thank you note for the mail carrier and leave it in our box.  A few days later, we got a knock at the door.  It was our mailman with a note of appreciation.  He was retiring that December and he stopped in to say that in his entire career as a postal worker he never remembered having ever been thanked.  He said it made his retirement complete.  A simple expression of thanks touched both his life and ours.

I love the poem “How Different” by Richard Trench which helps us to recognize the effect of gratitude in our lives.

Some murmur when the sky is clear
And wholly bright to view,
If one small speck of dark appear
In their great heaven of blue:
And some with thankful love are filled,
If but one streak of light,
One ray of God’s good mercy, gild
The darkness of their night.
(Richard Chenevix Trench)

With ingratitude we lose sight of the blessings we have by comparing them to the seemingly endless blessings of others.  Developing an expectation that more is deserved can cause our plate of plenty to appear empty. Comparing distorts reality giving way to ingratitude.

It is my hope that we will approach the weeks ahead with an eye for and heart full of gratitude:  That our homes and families will be strengthened by expressions of heartfelt thanks; and that we like Grandmother Mynoa, will experience a happy heart, born of a thankful heart.

Carol Soelberg is a former president of United Families International and currently directs UFI’s chapter development programs.  Carol and her husband, Glade, are the parents of 13 children – you guess how many grandchildren they have!  Carol has been an unparalleled and eloquent voice for motherhood and family around the world.

 Research on “The Science of Gratitude”

Happy Thanksgiving 1Grateful students reported higher grades, more life satisfaction, better social integration and less envy and depression than their peers who were less thankful and more materialistic. Additionally, feelings of gratitude had a more powerful impact on the students’ lives overall than materialism.  Froh, Jeffrey J., et.al. (2011) Gratitude in Adolescence:  An Understudied Virtue. Journal of Happiness Studies.

Those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, had fewer health complaints, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. Emmons, R. A., McCullough, M. A. (2003) Counting Blessings versus Burdens:  An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.

“[F]amilies who are able to redefine a stressor event more positively appear to be better able to cope and adapt.” Price, S.J., Price, C.A., McKenry, P.C., (2010). Families & Change, Coping with Stressful Events and Transitions. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE publications, Inc

In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group. Emmons, R. A., et. al. (2003), Dimensions and Perspectives of Gratitude. University of California, Davis.

Newlyweds who showed gratitude for one’s partner improved marital satisfaction and adjustment.  Schramm, D. G., Marshall, J. P., Harris, V., & Lee, T. R. (2005). After ‘I do’: The newlywed transition. Marriage & Family Review, 38(1), 45-67.

“Feelings of gratitude and generosity are helpful in solidifying our relationships with people we care about, and benefit to the one giving as well as the one on the receiving end.”  Everyday gratitude serves an important relationship maintenance mechanism in close relationships, acting as a booster shot to the relationship.  Algoe, S. A., Gable, S. A., Maisel, N.C. (2010), It’s the Little Things: Everyday Gratitude as a Booster Shot for Romantic Relationships.  Personal Relationships, 17, 217-233.

Gratitude improves one’s feeling that life is manageable and meaningful.  Lambert, N. M., Graham, S. M., Fincham, F. D., & Stillman, T. F. (2009). A changed perspective: How gratitude can affect sense of coherence through positive reframing. The Journal Of Positive Psychology, 4(6), 461-470.

People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathic and to take the perspective of others.  They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks. McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., Tsang, J. (2002), The Grateful Disposition: A Conceptual and Empirical Topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82(1), 112-127.

Feeling and expressing gratitude significantly predicted marital happiness among long-term married couples. Gordon, C. L., Arnette, R. M., & Smith, R. E. (2011). Have you thanked your spouse today?: Felt and expressed gratitude among married couples. Personality And Individual Differences, 50(3), 339-343.

Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.  The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions.  Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life. Emmons, R. A., et. al. (2003), Dimensions and Perspectives of Gratitude. University of California, Davis.

Participants who expressed gratitude to their partner for 3 weeks saw greater strength in their relationship. Lambert, N. M., Clark, M. S., Durtschi, J., Fincham, F. D., & Graham, S. M. (2010). Benefits of expressing gratitude: Expressing gratitude to a partner changes one’s view of the relationship. Psychological Science, 21(4), 574-580.

Gratitude is associated with higher satisfaction with life and lower materialism.  Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., Stillman, T. F., & Dean, L. R. (2009). More gratitude, less materialism: The mediating role of life satisfaction. The Journal Of Positive Psychology, 4(1), 32-42.

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