Monday, November 25, 2013


Thankful, as an adjective, means to be pleased and relieved. To me, being thankful is demonstrating appreciation for good things. It's something humans have done for a few millennia, building an endless number of rituals around such.

I don't need a deity to feel grateful to - to be thankful, to have gratitude, needs no belief in an invisible super friend.

As I noted earlier this year, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California-Berkeley studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, including how the traits of altruism, compassion, empathy, and mindfulness transcend religions and contribute to happiness. The importance of gratitude is one focus of their study. Scientists are finding that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated
A few years ago, I decided to start sending thank you notes. I send them via formal stationary or via a simple postcard. Some people have gushed to me how they have made them feel - others have never mentioned them. But I do them, regardless of any comment I may or may not get, because I want that moment recorded and acknowledged, for myself and the other person. I want to demonstrate, clearly, that I valued that thing or moment. And it really, really makes me feel good.

Also a few years ago, I made a commitment to write at least two good reviews for every bad one I write on Yelp. I've actually far exceeded that margin. One place I wrote a bad review for saw all my good reviews and worked to correct the problem because they could see I wasn't just a curmudgeon.

And then there's my victory dance: for getting a discount airline ticket, or a refund of some kind, or for making a flight I was convinced I was going to miss... if I'm going to stomp about and lament a missed flight or poor customer service, I'm going to get happy for when things go right - much to my husband's embarrassment at times (dancing in public does that).

Thanksgiving has always been a special holiday1 to me. I like the focus on people being together, rather than on gifts. It transcends any religion. I've experienced the day far from my family, hundreds, even thousands of miles away, and that feeling of welcome, of kindness and of celebration for being together is something I always cherish.

So, for what am I thankful? For 2013, I'm grateful for:
  • the patience, love and support from my husband
  • the continuing health and vibrant nature of my 17 year-old puppy
  • the time I got to spend with my sister and nieces this year
  • the kindness of the community in which I live
  • my financial stability
  • the paid work I got in 2013
  • the stamps in my passport, even the latest one for a trip that was a disaster
  • all national parks in the USA
  • my motorcycle
  • the Affordable Care Act (but not the web site!)
  • the natural beauty all around me
  • the choice to buy a house seeming to be the right one
  • Benedict Cumberbatch 
  • a release date for Sherlock in the USA
  • Nathan Fillion on Twitter
Savoring life is good for you - science says so! If you don't feel gratitude, but want to, then go through the motions of gratitude - write thank you notes (even on sticky notes), send an email thanking someone for something, write a positive Yelp review for a restaurant, a hair salon, a car mechanic, a lawn service, a store, or other business you have patronized. Going through the motions can cultivate the emotion of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

1: The word holiday probably comes from the Old English word hāligdæg, which means holy day. Here, I'm using it to mean day of celebration and recreation and no work.