Is Gratitude Really Such a Powerful Force?

November 25, 2019

Dear Editor:
Did your mom ever tell you to take your vitamins? Mine did. Without knowing it, she added a healthy does of Vitamin G to our daily diets. Vitamin G? Well, that stands for Gratitude.

I’ll never forget a life-changing experience between my mom, Donna Cummings, and me, nearly five decades ago. It was a Sunday late afternoon in Detroit. We lived in a well-established Detroit neighborhood called Sherwood Forest. (For those of you geography buffs, it was between Seven and Eight Mile Roads, and Woodward and Livernois Avenues.)

I was the youngest of five kids, and I effortlessly complained about who knows what on that Sunday afternoon, as I probably did every day leading up to it. (None of you have ever done that, I’m sure.)

Mom reprimanded my ungrateful attitude and declared, “Lisa, you have so much to be grateful for. Get in the car.”

My mom promptly put me in the car that Sunday. For some reason, I remember being in my flannel nightgown, perhaps getting ready for bed.

I had no idea where we were going. My wise mother decided to drive me (and I believe my holier brother, Jeff), to the slums and ghettos of Detroit. The houses were falling apart. The front yards were four feet wide from sidewalk to front porch. Loose, skinny, stray , barking dogs looked scary to me. I probably reached down to make sure my door was locked. I had never seen boarded up homes and knocked out windows like that before. The sight just hit me like a ton of bricks. So did my mom’s words:

“Lisa, you just look at this.” She stopped right in front of the dilapidated places. My heart was almost beating out of my chest. My eyes just stared out the window. I began to crying.

“Look at this. Have you EVER seen anything like this before? This is how some people live. Now stop your whining and complaining. You have so much thank God for.”

Guess what. She was absolutely right. And so I did. I’d like to think that I curtailed the complaining a bit more as the days rolled on, and as I increased my daily dose of Vitamin G. I mean, in my mind, I was wearing a warm nightgown at the time, with no rips even. I was going home to a warm home with good food.

Sure, as the youngest of five kids I got my fair share of teasing at home, but I could also fake sleeping in the car when we pulled up to our driveway, and one of my older brothers (thanks Tom or Mark) would always carry me in all the way up to my bed, covering me with a warm blanket. Sometimes I even had my own bed in my own room. Wow. Coming from a larger family, with extra people staying with us often, a little privacy like that went a long way.

Gratitude is underperformed and underrated these days. If we are honest, most of us are looking out for #1, and that number one is usually ourselves.

Author Jennifer Kindley, in her recent article, “How to Practice Gratitude for a Healthier, Happier Life,” gives us some practical advice worth heeding. According to Kindley:

Research shows that being grateful has a deep and lasting impact on your body.

Studies have linked living a thankful life to fewer aches and pains, better sleep, and more. 

“Making gratitude a daily practice is like taking a vitamin,” says David DeSteno, PhD, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University in Boston and author of the book Emotional Success. He’s not being hyperbolic: He means it’s like an actual vitamin, making your body work better. And the deep, long-lasting power of gratitude is blissfully simple to harness.

Gratitude is a choice, according to Dr. Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California. Moreover, “Feelings of gratitude often trigger the calming branch of the nervous system. So there is definitely a link between gratitude and improved health.

Jennifer Lindly, in her article, “How to Practice Gratitude for a Healthier, Happier Life” (Prevention Magazine) encourages us with these simple ways to feel more grateful:

Write it down in a gratitude journal. Stop, contemplate and be specific in your writing as to what or who you are thankful for, and why.
Focus on little surprises to give yourself a gratitude reboot.

Give yourself reminders. For example, every time you open a door you might express gratitude for something or someone in life.

Say it out loud. If you have the opportunity to express appreciation to someone else, instead of just thanking them for the gift, highlight the person’s qualities, like, “Thank you for being so thoughtful.”

The Psalmist in Scripture sums up the practice of gratitude so well:
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” Psalm 100:4

So the next time you catch yourself having a little attitude like I did as a child that one Sunday afternoon fifty years ago, stop yourself in your tracks. Make the choice to take a G vitamin pill. Recalibrate your heart and mind. Thank God for every step and every breath you breathe, and watch your soul get a gratitude makeover for a better you.

Lisa Harper

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