Giving Thanks

Why Give Thanks?

University of California psychologist, Robert Emmons, has spent more than a decade researching the benefits of giving thanks and has now written a book on the topic: Thanks! How Practicing the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. Emmons is a leading practitioner in "positive psychology" and editor in chief of Positive Psychology, an industry publication.

He says: "We wanted to balance our focus and be able to help everyone, including high-functioning individuals, this field is an antidote to the traditional, nearly exclusive emphasis on 'negative psychology' that was focused on fixing problems like trauma, addiction and stress".

Emmons and colleague, University of Miami psychology, Professor Michael McCullough, conducted studies on volunteers who were instructed to keep a daily or weekly "gratitude journal," or to perform regular self-guided "gratitude exercises."

In the journaling group, participants wrote down at least one thing for which they were thankful. The "control" groups recorded neutral life events — or life's hassles — respectively.

During the course of separate three-week and 10 week periods, here's a sampling of what the studies showed:

  • Gratitude is a positive emotion — and one that needs to be consciously cultivated.
  • Those who kept weekly gratitude journals performed more regular fitness training, reported fewer symptoms of physical pain, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week.
  • Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward achieving important personal goals.
  • Self-guided gratitude resulted in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy and improved sleep.

Overall, Emmons found, "The practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by about 25 percent."

What's more, the benefits were long-lasting: Just three weeks of journaling can create an effect that lasts six months or more.

Neuroscience and brain expert Richard Davidson, has also demonstrated that this activation of the brain's frontal lobes can positively affect objective physical conditions, such as cortical levels, heart-rate variability and brain-wave patterns.

Giving thanks is good for your health, but it is also a part of most spiritual practices as well. Christians give thanks through prayers and meal blessings (grace), through reading the Bible and singing songs of praise. By the simple term Amen ('verily, truly, so it shall be, God's will') They believe this is glorifying to God.

Within Islam they use the saying “Alhamdulillah” as a form of giving thanks (it means 'All praise and thanks belong to God') this is used in supplication to Allah and also as a greeting, the saying 'masha Allah' ('As God has willed it') is used to give thanks for another's blessings, they believe by using these saying they protect themselves from diverging from the path of God.

Since Buddhism is non-theistic, they don't give thanks to any God, but they try to develop an attitude of gratitude towards all the factors in their lives that contribute towards their fortune and success.

Within Paganism we celebrate Harvest Home, a ritual for the first harvest of the year. Thanks are given by chanting, dance and song. There may also be a time of silence for reflection and gratitude. Pagans may also say a food blessing, prayers and other forms of gratitude at this time.

However gratitude and the giving of thanks should not be limited to one or two celebration times of the year, it is a practice that should be cultivated every day, enhancing our mundane life with our spiritual beliefs. When you are in a sincere state of gratitude your energy (Vibrational resonance) is one of acceptance and harmony. You resonate and as a result project a much higher vibrational frequency which is exactly what attracts to you the events, conditions, and circumstances that you desire.

Ways to Practice Giving Thanks

Now you have a better understanding of why giving thanks is important to your health, and how some religions go about showing gratitude, how can you include this practice in your daily life?

Create a Ritual of Gratitude: If you want to express your thankfulness to your Patron Deities for all the good things in your life, why not hold a Ritual of Gratitude? By celebrating the things you are thankful for, you send a message out that acknowledge how fortunate you are. As Pagans we are aware that what we send out comes back to us, so by being thankful for our blessings, we honor them and open ourselves to further blessings.

Keep a Gratitude Journal: Why not mimic the experiments of Dr. Emmons, take a few moments every day to sit down and think about your blessings and record them in a gratitude journal each day. You can make the process as simple or as detailed as you like, the point is to remind yourself of your blessings and to take a few moments to honor them.

  • Decide on a Journal — Decide how you want to maintain your journal; online, or in paper form. When deciding which route to take in selecting a journal, think about whether you'd rather type or write and where you would like to do your writing, do you want to do so in your sacred space or during your sunset devotional.
  • If you choose to do so in paper form (I keep mine on paper as I personally find the writing a part of the larger process) then buy yourself a beautiful hardcover book to record your journaling, the book itself should be a thing of pleasure.
  • Create a Framework — You can write long, descriptive paragraphs about what you appreciate in your daily life, or your gratitude journal can consist entirely of a series of daily lists. You can write about a preset number of items per entry (3 per day, as an example). or write about whatever seems right for you on any given day. (Gratitude journals tend to be most effective when you write about three items at the end of each day. This is regular enough and simple enough to be do-able, and writing at the end of the day tends to bring the best benefits).
  • Commit To a Schedule — An important aspect of the success of your gratitude journal is the frequency with which you write in and use it. It's usually best to aim for once a day in the beginning. You want to make a commitment that will keep you inspired to write, (even if you aren't always in the mood, because this exercise can help change your mood). Just don't be so rigid that you are tempted to give up the whole plan if you slip up once or twice.
  • Keep Writing — Many people find that their whole attitude to life and gratitude changes once they've been keeping the journal for a while. They will begin to notice things they may not have otherwise noticed. This makes the journal become more than just a chore but it becomes a part of the day they look forward to. (Experiment with the types of things you write about. If you find yourself always mentioning the obvious things — "I'm grateful for my children" — every day, challenge yourself to notice the subtle things — "Today I had took a walk through the bush and listened to the birds sing and it was amazing!")
  • You may want to read over your journal entries occasionally in the future. This can be a great pick-me-up when you're feeling stressed or depressed and inspiring and uplifting when you've just had one of those days.
  • Remember don't save that all gratitude for the journal. Tell the people in your life how much you appreciate and love them. Even sales clerks and postal employees you encounter in your day, like to know that they're appreciated. And their positive reactions will help put you in a positive mood, too.
  • Consider keeping a section in the back of your journal (I call mine "The Simple Pleasures") where you can record things that make you happy — an ice cold beer on a really hot day, watching a butterfly take flight for the first time, hearing my kids laughter, then make sure you indulge in these activities often, encouraging times for gratitude allows us to gain more from all situations win which we can be thankful.

Carry a Talisman Associated with Thankfulness

When you're feeling under-appreciated at work, you're stuck in traffic with a bunch of honking horns, or you're frazzled because once again you forgot to take something out for dinner, it's hard to remember the things in your life for which you are grateful. Create a Talisman of thankfulness!

  • Choose a piece of jewelry that you will enjoy wearing and turn it into a talisman of thankfulness.
  • Sit quietly, holding your jewelry, and focus grateful, positive energy into the item (think of all the things you are thankful for).
  • Wear it and then when things aren't going so well, feel it against your skin and allow yourself to be reminded of those things which you are thankful for.
  • If you don't wear jewelry, you can carry a gratitude crystal in your pocket or purse.

Share Your Thankfulness

Remember when you were a child, and your mom made you write thank-you notes after every birthday? There's a reason she made you do that, when people do things for us, they need to know that they're appreciated. If someone has done something nice for you, let them know how much it meant to them. Send them a note, call them, or tell them in person. It doesn't have to be complicated, just a simple, "Thank you for [insert what you are thankful for]" is all that is needed. Just those few words can help brighten someone's day, and let them know that their words or deeds didn't go unnoticed.

Random Acts of Kindness

Ever do something nice for someone else, just for the heck of it? One way to cultivate gratitude is by doing kind things for others, without any hopes of compensation. Do something good for someone else, simply for the enjoyment they will receive. With any luck, they'll take it a step further and do something nice for someone too. Just by performing these random acts of kindness, you can trigger a "gratitude chain" into motion!

Pay It Forward

When someone does something nice for you, don't "pay them back" rather "pay it forward" and do something nice for someone else. The basic premise of 'Paying it Forward' is this — "an obligation to do three good deeds for others in repayment of a good deed that one receives. Such good deeds should be things that the other person cannot accomplish on their own. In this way, the need to help one another can spread through society, creating a social movement with the goal of making the world a better place".

Remind Yourself of Your Good Fortune

Are you happy to have your health, a job, a family who loves you, and a roof over your head? Make a collage or poster of images that remind you just how lucky you are. Don't want o hang a poster up on the walls? Use sticky-notes instead — write one thing you're grateful for on each one, and hang them in places you'll see them, like over your desk, on the microwave door, the bathroom mirror. Each time you're reminded of your good fortune, you'll feel thankful — and that can help bring more good things your way!

A Mindset of Charitable Giving

When we have good fortune in our lives, it's easy to be thankful. However, many of us feel even better about our good fortune if we can share it with others. Find a way to make a difference. If you're grateful that you've got food to eat every day, why not organize a canned goods drive to help a local food pantry? Donate your time to local service agencies, like domestic violence shelters, hospice agencies, or even pet rescue operations, depending on where your interests lie. It feels good to help others out, and your efforts might be just the thing that someone else needs to pull them out of a hole. Remember the times in your life when you needed help, and pay forward the favor. Find a need, and then find a way to fill it.

Set Goals of New Things to Achieve

For many Pagans, there are times of the year when we ritually shed the old baggage and focus on new beginnings. Because of this, goal-setting can become an important aspect of our spiritual development. When we set ourselves a goal, we are basically saying to the universe, "This is my will," and that's how the magick begins.

Learn From Your Mistakes

It's easy to screw things up. But the great thing about making mistakes is that we can learn from them. The inventor Thomas Edison tried over 3,000 times to create the first light bulb. When someone asked him about these failed attempts, he said: "Actually, I didn't fail 3,000 times. I found 3,000 ways how not to make a light bulb." Every step we take is part of the journey, and sometimes we might take the wrong path, but as long as we can learn from the experience, it has been a positive experience. Learn from your mistakes, and show your thankfulness even for the things you messed up. After all, those help shape you as much if not more than the good experiences do!

Recognize Those Who have Inspired You

Is there someone who has touched your life in a profound way? Perhaps a teacher who took you under their wing when you were a child, or a co-worker who mentored you when you were sure you'd lose your job. Maybe your parents set a great example to you of the sort of adult you wished to be someday, or someone saved you from a bad decision you almost made. It's important to recognize those people who have dramatically impacted our lives — and it's also important to remember that we may well inspire someone else some day. Be sure to thank the people who have impacted you. Show your gratitude to them, and perhaps someone else will show the same to you in the future. If you are unable to tell them, then simply write them a letter and burn it allowing the gratitude to disperse into the universe.

Express Gratitude for Who You are

So often our gratitude is expressed outwardly and inwardly we condemn, and abuse our spirits. How often do you tell yourself you are fat, ugly, boring, weak or simply not worthy of anything? Show yourself some gratitude for all that you are, for all your positive aspects — be grateful for your cheerful smile, your twinkling eyes, your hearty laugh, your soft skin. Try to give gratitude to the parts of yourself you usually condemn — instead of saying I hate my big arms — say I love that my arms have soft skin, instead of saying I hate my laugh, say I love it that I have things I can laugh about!

Remember the Gods created you just as you are and they find joy in you because you are unlike anyone they have created before, who are we to disparage what the Gods saw fit to give us? Love yourself and be grateful the Gods chose to give you life.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License