This Thanksgiving, give others a helping of gratitude
CHICAGO -- Let's be real: Sometimes it's just plain hard to give thanks.
It may be because of personal issues like a job loss, a death in the family, the end of a relationship or an illness. Or it could be the accumulation of terrible events in the world whether it be natural disasters, mass shootings, the daily drumbeat of sexual assault news or the failings of our political system.
Under such circumstances, it's normal to feel overwhelmed by the injustices of life.
And yet, these are the very times when it's more important than ever to be grateful for all that is going well in our lives.
In fact, gratitude is the best method for combating all the negativity that swirls around us on a daily basis, according to Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis and the author of "The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a Life of Happiness and Well-Being by Giving Thanks."
"In my research, I have been amazed that the most grateful individuals have often -- from a purely objective level -- lived lives of loss and suffering," Emmons told me. "How can this be? They've had plenty to feel depressed over, and even a sense of victimization wouldn't have been surprising. This is where it becomes useful to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. Of course, no one 'feels' grateful that they have suffered. How could they? But they understood that they could choose to maintain a grateful outlook on life, as a fundamentally enduring orientation that says that amidst the rancor of daily life, an underlying goodness exists in the universe and therefore 'I will be grateful in spite of the circumstances.'"
Emmons calls this "defiant gratitude," a term that speaks to the spirit of taking your feelings about a situation into your own hands instead of letting them control you.
Sure, this is easy to say. We've all read research about how people with the syrupy-sounding "attitude of gratitude" report feeling healthier, being less depressed, getting a better night's sleep and having more and better relationships.
But if you struggle with pessimism (and let's face it, some of us were born into worry-wart families and grew up looking at the storm clouds and not their silver linings), exercising "defiant gratitude" has a certain appeal.
"To offset chronic negativity, we need to continually and perpetually hear good news," Emmons said. "We need to constantly and regularly create and take in positive experiences, and gratitude is our best weapon, an ally to counter these internal and external threats that rob us of sustainable joy."