by Dianne Neal Matthews
It’s that time of year when we see articles touting the benefits of the habit of gratitude. Studies reveal that intentionally holding on to feelings of thankfulness, even for just several seconds, can boost our immune system, increase the blood supply to our heart and lower levels of stress hormones. People who describe themselves as feeling grateful in general tend to have more optimism, suffer less stress and undergo fewer episodes of clinical depression than the population as a whole.
When subjects engaged in simple daily self-guided exercises, they reported higher levels of enthusiasm, energy and improved sleep. But what about having thankfulness exercises forced upon you? Surely there wouldn’t be any benefits from that—or would there?
In 2015, my daughter hosted our family Thanksgiving. After breakfast, she set out a square glass jar along with slips of paper and a pencil. “We are going to have a good day,” she explained to her children. “Whenever anyone complains about something, they have to write down one thing they’re thankful for.”
Within minutes, slips of paper had dropped into the jar. Even the grownups started “catching” each other. (For myself, I still maintain that I was not complaining when I observed that our meal would contain several thousand calories per person; I was merely stating a fact.) The only one who escaped the discipline was our youngest grandchild, who was less than a year old.
Later that morning, five-year-old Roman, who was already well-represented in the jar, came to the kitchen and asked for another slip of paper. “What did you complain about this time?” I asked. “Nothing,” he responded as I handed him the pencil. “This is fun!” he added as he began to write.
My jaw dropped at the transformation in his attitude. Roman had complained before and during breakfast, and he had grumbled at his mom’s creative idea. Now he found pleasure in thinking up things that he felt thankful for. Until that morning, I’d thought of gratitude as something that needed to be spontaneous. But now I could see the transforming power of thankfulness, even when it’s imposed upon us. The proof stood right before me, scribbling on slips of paper.
Dianne Neal Matthews is a freelance writer and the author of four daily devotional books including The One Year Women of the Bible and Designed for Devotion: A 365-Day Journey from Genesis to Revelation. She also writes for websites and blogs, contributes to compilation books (including Guideposts’ Mornings with Jesus) and teaches at writers’ conferences. To learn more, visit www.DianneNealMatthews.com or connect with Dianne through Facebook or Twitter.