Gratitude is good for you. According to one Harvard study, participants who kept gratitude journals for 10 weeks reported improved mood, increased exercise and fewer trips to the doctor’s office than those who focused on life’s aggravations for the same time period.
It doesn’t even require leaving the sofa. It doesn’t require buying a fancy journal from the bookstore, although you can if you want to. A $1.50 composition book from the drugstore is fine. So is an old, bendy, half-empty spiral notebook with the cover falling off.
This is not a prescription from an insufferable optimist dispensing sunshine. By nature I am a reclusive, melancholic realistic. Gratitude is for everyone, even for the pessimists, the suffering, those for whom life seems unfair.
If you are thinking, “What could I possibly be grateful for today?” read on. I am not suggesting you be grateful for suffering, loss, financial hardship, divorce or illness per se. But the practice of gratitude is a fiery torch that illumines contentment hiding in the cracks.
G.K. Chesterton wrote,
"Being content with an attic ought not to mean being unable to move from it and resigned to living in it. It ought to mean appreciating what there is to appreciate in such a position; such as the quaint and elvish slope of the ceiling or the sublime aerial view of the opposite chimney-pots."
For an example of a dreary attic, take the first 10 years of my marriage.
- Three months before our wedding I came down with severe chicken pox (no health insurance.) My face swelled. I was registering for wedding china with a complexion not unlike a plague patient, circa 1350 A.D.
- Two weeks before the wedding, parked at a red light, we were hit by a drunk driver at 40 m.p.h. who thought we were the turn lane.
- Six weeks after the wedding bells, I had an ovarian cancer scare requiring emergency surgery.
- My first child was born by emergency C-section, during which the doctor accidentally nicked my bowel.
- I experienced a severe postpartum depression, followed by a many-years-long bad reaction to the antidepressant medication my OB so cavalierly prescribed.