Wednesday, November 23, 2011

PRACTICING GRATITUDE


DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's quiz day on Jungle Red!

Thanksgiving is about:

A: Stuffing yourself with really rich food until you think you'll pop.

B: People dressing up in Pilgrim hats and turkey costumes (we all remember that from primary school.)

C: Football.

D: Macy's parade.

E: Shopping. It is, after all, the day before Black Friday.

Well, maybe a little bit of all of those things, although in our family we don't shop on Black Friday. (I can't imagine many things I'd rather do less...) We do love the food, and the gathering of friends and family. And I even like the ritual football, though I'm not a regular fan.

It is, of course, also a celebration of gratitude, but isn't it weird--or maybe uniquely American--that we set aside merely one day for thanksgiving? The Japanese have a custom of beginning meals by placing the palms together in front of the heart and saying aloud itadakimasu, roughly translated as "I humbly receive."

This little tidbit is courtesy of Dr. Andrew Weil's new book, Spontaneous Happiness, in a section about practicing gratitude to improve one's emotional well-being. According to Dr. Weil, scientists are finding that regularly practicing grateful thinking can move your emotional set point for happiness as much as 25 percent in the right direction. (Robert A. Emmons, editor in chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology, has written a book called, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.)

It seems that the method for measuring the effect of gratitude used most frequently by researchers is the Gratitude Journal.

I was a bit surprised to hear that this was "new," as I've kept a gratitude journal off and on for about twenty years. And I've found that when I do this regularly, I feel better, mentally and physically, I'm more productive, and probably much nicer to be around.

But the key word here is regularly. I backslide. I get busy and tired and stressed and stop doing something that I KNOW will make me feel better.

So I wondered if any of you, fellow Reds and readers, had used gratitude journals, and if so, do you have any tips for the rest of us?

LUCY BURDETTE: I've never kept a journal of any kind--that's probably kind of weird for a writer. And counterproductive too. Imagine the notes and stories I could be falling back on...

But anyway, I totally believe that practicing gratitude can effect change. (Literature I've read wouldn't agree that a happiness "set point" could be moved by as much as 25% but who knows?) But running through a list of what we're grateful for can't help make us feel a little more positive, right? My Thanksgiving table decor this year will include brown paper instead of tablecloths, because I don't have two big ones that match. This way everyone can write what they're grateful for right on the table! Crayons all around...

As for me, I'm grateful for family, friends, health, pets, eyesight to read, and all the gang at Jungle Red Writers! Oh must mention, AN APPETITE FOR MURDER, launching in January:)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I've kept journals, In my twenties. I went back and looked, hoping for insight. What I got was: men. No more needs be said.

As for gratitude: The other day, an acquaintance and I were in a Burger King. (Glamorous business lunch.) A particularly unpleasant/unhappy/unkempt couple walked in. My colleague turned to me and whispered "Deliverance." At just the same time, I turned to her and whispered: "There but for fortune."

Oh, Lucy, the brown paper Thanksgiving! Wonderful. Write on it for me, okay? Health, and love, and family, and brains, and imagination and joy. And my darling Jungle Reds. (And THE OTHER WOMAN, coming in September, for which there is a BRILLIANT cover!)

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm a big blessing counter (my glass is half full!), though I don't catalog them in a journal. I do feel inordinately fortunate to have the life I have--a career that's going on twelve years old, opportunities to travel, friends who are mystery writers (simply the best, most generous and interesting people) whom I'd otherwise never have gotten to know. Two gorgeous (grown) daughters and a (very grown) husband who still tolerate me.

Not to mention the simplest of things--like today I peeled granny smith apples for pie and had the loveliest plate of apple peels with my lunch.

RHYS BOWEN: I've also never been able to keep a journal. I find I simply can't put down my innermost thoughts on paper. But I think a gratitude journal is a great idea and may even start one. I've lots of things to be thankful for, starting with celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. To be surrounded by the love of family and friends is the most important thing in the world to me.

And as Hank has said, I'm amazed and blessed by the number of true friends I've made in the mystery field. They make every meeting and convention a joy.

I am grateful for my health and certainly don't take it for granted any longer.

I am grateful for a writing career that has spanned a lifetime and the miracle that I still have two publishers who like my books and fans who will buy them.

I am grateful that I have had a chance to travel and see the world, and appreciate nature and beauty and that I'm never bored, and love to laugh.

JAN BROGAN: Debs, I think its funny that you are surprised by the Japanese beginning their meals by placing their palms together and saying I humbly receive.

I mean, isn't that grace? I grew up saying grace BEFORE the meal, with the lines "Blessed is the Lord with these thy gifts we are about to receive." And we actually had to say grace after dinner before we got to leave the table, too.

Today, at least in Massachusetts, home of the pilgrims, I'm sorry to say that many people would look at you askance if you said grace, even quietly, in a public place, UNLESS you said it in JAPANESE. Or maybe Hindu. Sometimes they allow it at Thanksgiving, though.

But I digress. Yes, absolutely. Gratitude is the antidote for unhappiness or malaise. We all get so used to our incredible lives that we take them for granted and focus on what we don't have. But I think the most positive thing about getting older is that you really do learn gratitude. I kept a journal for years that was a lot like Hank's. Mostly about boys/men. I should burn the evidence. But I do meditate each morning and I end each session with a few minutes of gratitude and don't tell anyone, even prayer.

DEBS: Lucy, I LOVE the brown paper tablecloths! My daughter is making a "thanksgiving tree", an arrangement of bare branches, with tags that guests can write on and attach. Two lovely ideas to celebrate the day.

And Jan, I didn't forget about saying grace, but to me the Japanese custom seemed more secular. But this may be because I grew up in a family that didn't say grace, and anyone doing so would have been a huge embarrassment. A shame, that.

Hallie, the apples are the kind of thing that I put in a gratitude journal, when I manage to keep one. Five things a day, even if sometimes the only thing you can manage to write is "bed" five times:-) But it teaches you to be mindful of those little things, as well as the big ones, and it is the little things that make up the chain of our days.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I never kept a journal as a child - I'd be curious to see what I would have written, probably just the little dramas of puberty like everyone else!

I'm grateful every day and I'm constantly telling myself how lucky I am. Yes, I have all the basics (and then some) but I have a wonderful husband who lets me drag him up mountains, down rivers, onto houseboats and into tents and almost never complains. I've had fun jobs all my life and even though I never made a ton of money I had great experiences and met some incredible people. And now I'm getting to try my hand at writing. (After 4 books I think I'm still learning) and I'm fortunate enough to have the time and the opportunity to make this dream a reality.

At the risk of sounding corny, this year I'm also grateful that I live in America, that my parents instilled in me their values, that I'm still learning new things and making new friends, that I've read so many good books this year and shared good times with the people I love. And just because I'm me and can't ever be totally serious - I'm glad I found that black dress on sale, that Lou Reed has a new album, that I have tickets to see Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone on my birthday, and that Demi Moore has finally dumped Ashton Kutcher. You can do BETTER!

DEBS: Can I say AMEN to that?

We at Jungle Red wish you all an equally rich list of blessings, and a very Happy Thanksgiving!

21 comments:

Laura DiSilverio said...

I try to be grateful every day, and it's one of the things I most encourage in my daughters. If you've never read the poet Mary Oliver, you're missing some of the finest, most uplifting expressions of gratitude ever written. (I recently discovered her work.) You won't look at a sparrow or blade of grass the same after reading her, I promise.

Becky Homes said...

I agree, we should be grateful for what we have not only on Thanksgiving. We should find good reason to thank for all the nice things we have in our life.

Julia said...

How did I miss this?

This Thanksgiving, I have one big thing I'm thankful for, and I don't really need any other blessings: my husband continues to be cancer-free.

Jan Brogan said...

That is an excellent blessing, Julia.

Laura, I'm going to have to check out Mary Oliver. And along those lines, I'd recommend Thich Nhat Hahn as an awesome inspirer of gratitude. He's also such an incredibly beautiful and efficient writer.

Jan Brogan said...

Okay, just went to Amazon to check out Mary Oliver. Laura, I need help....which book should I start with.
Poems? Essays??

Please recommend.

Christina Fifield-Winn said...

Ok, looks like I have some work to do...
1. Get a journal
2. Be grateful more often than when I win on the $2 scratch offs
3. Write in journal more than once a year at Thanksgiving when a plethora of posts on thankfulness are in my face
I'll start with this post...thank you for showing me how it's done. Have a blessed holiday!
CHEERS KAFE CASTRO style!

AnnOxford said...

Eleven years ago last week, we flew from Wisconsin to Oregon to be with our son. He had surgery that produced a 16-pound non-malignant tumor (which he named his "turkey buddy). I'm grateful for his courage, his happiness, his generosity and his cancer-free body. I'm grateful for my husband -- one of the good guys. And I'm grateful for all of gracious Jungle Reds, who brilliantly dispense both life and literary wisdom as well as extend friendship to all of us. Thank you!

Lucy Burdette said...

Ann, and we're grateful for you and all our visitors! Good lord, a 16 pound tumor--that is truly terrifying.

Julia, we are grateful for that blessing too!!!! And for my hub's health too--another one of the good, good, good guys!

Eloise Hill said...

I'm grateful for each new day, living in an incredibly beautiful part of the world, for those who have loved me even when I wasn't so lovable, and, for my late parents, whose lives continue to inspire me...

Tammy said...

Among many other things, I'm grateful that the mystery community is so warm, welcoming, and fun. Thanks to all the Reds and contributors for providing interesting discussions and welcoming us all to join in!

Lisa Alber said...

I've always been a journaler, but these days I gravitate toward journaling when I'm down and I need to process. In moments like these, I note down three things to be grateful for each day. It is helpful. I think I heard about the three/day gratefulness list from Oprah about 15 years ago :-).

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Every time I see your names pop up in the comments, I think--oh! How wonderful! And I'm grateful every time..

Liz said...

"Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow."~Edward Sandford Martin

Verbose said...

A grateful journal, eh? Never thought about keeping one. I have, however, kept a journal since the age of 8, so maybe that sort of counts. Of course it's not specifically for the purposes of writing down my blessings, but it has more or less served that purpose to a certain degree --if not at the precise moment of writing, then in hindsight. Still, when it gets to days when I just don't have the patience to write down whatever goes on in my head, writing down my blessings would be a good motivater!

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