THE CENTER FOR THIRD AGE LEADERSHIP NEWSLETTER – NOVEMBER 2015
1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS
2. CLOSING IN ON THE GRATITUDE DAY
3. BEING NO LONGER IN A HURRY
4. TIPS FOR KEEPING A GRATITUDE JOURNAL
5. WIKIPEDIA’S TAKE ON GRATITUDE
6. THIS MONTH’S LINKS
QUOTES OF THE MONTH – MEISTER ECKHART, EPICTETUS & CICERO
“If the only prayer you ever prayed was, ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.”
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.”
1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS
November Greetings, Dear Friends…
Donna and I both feel Thanksgiving is the holiday closest to our hearts. Partly this is because it has remained relatively uncommercialized over time, but mostly because it is an occasion for gathering our loved ones together and pausing to share our gratitude for each other and all our blessings. It is one of the times when we all seem to offer the best in ourselves.
In the spirit of this season let me echo Meister Eckhart:
“If the only prayer you will ever say is thank you, it will be enough.”
I also want suggest we all extend his wisdom beyond this season – or any season. The more I mature, the more I understand that giving thanks for all things at all times is the simplest way for me to love the life I live.
My other major reason for so cherishing Thanksgiving is because it helps me remember how healthy the practice of gratitude is – and how good I feel when I let it flow! This is not just a nicey-nicey idea, but a vitally essential part of attending to our personal well-being. In the warmth of this spirit, these Musings will focus on the power and grace I continue to find in simple gratitude.
Meister Eckhart’s saying has become my mantra. Literally. I find myself uttering these simple words silently to myself hundreds of times a day.
More importantly, I now almost automatically begin them when I feel the first sign of stress, and what a difference that has made in my life and my relationships!
I am able to notice what’s happening, look around, find a touch of goodness, beauty or joy, and begin saying “Thank You” to the Universe. It is absolutely amazing how quickly my outlook and feelings change for the better.
What is this “practice of gratitude”?
It simply means remembering more and more frequently to consciously put my “monkey-mind” on hold and find something in my immediate environment I can be genuinely grateful for. I give thanks for whatever it is and return to my “normal” life. That’s it.
Yep, that’s it, and as Robert Frost wrote, “And that has made all the difference.” Try it. What you’ll find is feeing gratitude is simple. What’s hard is remembering to pause the monkey-mind’s chatter and look around. When you do, gratitude is always waiting.
There’s an explanation for how this works in Gestalt Psychology’s notion of figure and ground. In any circumstance we are surrounded by a huge number of specific figures (or details) we could focus on, and what we do is select and bring forward from the background a specific sub-set for our focus. The important words are “select and bring forward.” We’ve been conditioned to believe the external world forces details into our awareness. It doesn’t, but if we are untrained in managing our minds, it can seem to.
An example many have experienced is sitting in a classroom or library, and a noisy mower outside is driving you bananas. You turn to the friend next to you and say, “Isn’t that mower obnoxious?” And your friend replies, “What mower?” She never even heard it. That’s how we create different realities for ourselves – by “selecting and bringing forward” specific figures for our focus.
The point here is we can, at least briefly, manage our minds to select a focus that we respond to with feelings of gratitude, and, if we remember to do this frequently, our realities and our lives become more and more positive. I kid you not. Try it.
If this is a new idea for you, these articles will offer some convincing evidence and some useful tips on how to build gratitude into your life, too, and, to help you get through the stressful December days to come, take time to listen to this month’s last link…
PS: Some of you may wonder if you have read parts of this newsletter before. I hope you did – and it won’t hurt a bit to read them again…
2. CLOSING IN ON THE GRATITUDE DAY
BY HOWARD HANGER, WWW.CONTACTHOWARD.COM, NOVEMBER 19, 2015
FW: Here’s another “Mental Breather” from Howard, and he quotes Eckhart, too – may be something to what the old Meister is saying…
“If the only prayer you ever prayed was ‘thank you,” sang out Meister Eckhart, “that would suffice.”
What if it all boils down to that? What if when you shuffle off this mortal coil… when the fat lady has finally sung… when you go permanently offline… when you become the worm banquet… what if at that time, when you’re floating around in Spirit World trying to figure out what the hell just happened, what if God shows up, looks you straight in the face and says, “I just want to know one thing: Were you grateful?”
And what if that’s finally what it all boils down to? What if gratitude is the springboard for all good stuff that happens in this life? Gratitude, the bee that fertilizes the blossoms of goodness. All acts of love, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, joy and peace – what if they are all somehow spurred, sparked, sprouted and spiked by gratitude?
The argument could be made that Thanksgiving is the holiest day on the year. It’s the one time when friends and families are brought together simply to say, “Thank you.” No gifts. No obligation. No flashy lights. No displays at the mall. No religious differences. Just a day to simply and humbly accept the gifts that have been given to us. To say a prayer or sing a song or hug a seldom seen loved one. It’s a day and tradition which never fails to bless.
Howard is up to his bald head in gratitude this year. His daughters, Kelsey and Windsor, along with Windsor’s husband, Alex and baby (aka grandbaby) Ellie are in Asheville for Thanksgiving. Howard’s LadyLove, Joyell, is thrilled with her new position at The Farm in Tennessee and Jubilee!’s wonder-woman, Delia Bailey, is again hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at Jubilee! for anyone who doesn’t have a place to go. Delia fed over 130 people last year. So may things to be grateful for; so little time. Howard wishes deep joy to you on this Thanksgiving Day.
3. BEING NO LONGER IN A HURRY
BY JOHN G. SULLIVAN, AUTHOR OF “THE SPIRAL OF THE SEASONS”
FW: Who else but Elders can transform “our hurried and frenetic culture”?
“Sullivan talks about the incredible, audacious idea of being no longer in a hurry. Can we do this in America? Can we learn to take our time to feel and think deeply? This book helps you do that… Further, it inspires elders to take a special role in transforming our hurried and frenetic culture. It’s a wonderful book!” (Cecile Andrews, author of “Less Is More, Slow Is Beautiful, and Circle of Simplicity”)
Once upon a time the people in a remote village in Bali used to sacrifice and eat their old men. A day came when there was not a single old man left, and the traditions were lost. And the day came when the people wanted to build a great house for the meetings of the assembly, but when they came to look at the tree trunks that had been cut, no one could tell the top from the bottom. If the timbers were placed wrong-side up, a series of disasters would ensue. One young man spoke up. If the villagers promised never to eat the old again, he would be able to find a solution. The villagers gladly agreed. The young man brought forth his grandfather whom he had been hiding. The old man taught the community to tell top from bottom…
Among native peoples, revered elders had a place in holding the values of the tribe, initiating the young, and providing wise counsel in tribal deliberations. Today, seasoned citizens can play similar roles that allow all of us to benefit from their wisdom and experience. Consider how we would gain from seniors performing these three important functions:
1. TO SPEAK THE DEEP VALUES THAT HELP US COME TO FULLER LIFE AS A COMMUNITY
To do this means holding a dynamic balance between conserving our heritage and responding to new challenges. Might it not offer a middle way between red state and blue state rhetoric? Might such elders speak for the earth, remind us of the common good and help us reinstate civility?
2. TO INITIATE THE YOUNG IN DEEPER WAYS TOWARDS BECOMING CONTRIBUTING ADULTS
Today, mentoring is thought of as helping the student learn the ropes of life in the wider world. Fair enough. Yet there is an older notion that helps the young discover their gifts and find ways to give them to the community. Such an initiation is not only commercially useful, it also evokes honor and integrity and a deeper sense of what matters. In older cultures, the youth were not initiated by parents but by the older aunts and uncles. Elder men outside the family circle initiated the men in what it means to be a man of integrity. Elder women outside the family circle initiated the women in what it means to be a savvy woman.
3. TO OFFER WISE COUNSEL IN DELIBERATIONS
Elders understand that “This too will pass.” They have a sense of longer rhythms of time — time across generations. They notice who or what needs a voice — for example, the welfare of the earth or the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers. Not being hostages to the latest fads and fashions, nor to those employing them, they can bring some sanity to a rapidly spinning world. MORE…
4. TIPS FOR KEEPING A GRATITUDE JOURNAL
BY JASON MARCH, THE GREATER GOOD, NOVEMBER 17, 2011
Psychology researchers aren’t necessarily Thanksgiving experts—they may not know how to make fluffy stuffing, say, or beat the traffic to your in-laws’ house—but they have become a fount of wisdom on thanksgiving (with a small “t”).
Over the past decade, they’ve not only identified the great social, psychological, and physical health benefits that come from giving thanks; they’ve zeroed in on some concrete practices that help us reap those benefits.
And perhaps the most popular practice is to keep a “gratitude journal.” As we’ve reported many times over the years, studies have traced a range of impressive benefits to the simple act of writing down the things for which we’re grateful—benefits including better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness among adults and kids alike. We’ve even got our own “community gratitude journal” on Greater Good.
The basic practice is straightforward. In many of the studies, people are simply instructed to record five things they experienced in the past week for which they’re grateful. The entries are supposed to be brief—just a single sentence—and they range from the mundane (“waking up this morning”) to the sublime (“the generosity of friends”) to the timeless (“the Rolling Stones”).
But when you dig into the research, you find that gratitude journals don’t always work—some studies show incredible benefits, others not so much.
To understand why, I took a closer look at the research and consulted with Robert Emmons, arguably the world’s leading expert on the science of gratitude and an author of some of the seminal studies of gratitude journals.
Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, shared these research-based tips for reaping the greatest psychological rewards from your gratitude journal.
Don’t just go through the motions. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.
Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.
Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. In fact, one study by Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterward; people who wrote three times per week didn’t. “We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them,” says Emmons. “It seems counterintuitive, but it is how the mind works.”
In looking over this list, what strikes me is how keeping a gratitude journal—or perhaps the entire experience of gratitude—is really about forcing ourselves to pay attention to the good things in life we’d otherwise take for granted. Perhaps that’s why the benefits seem to diminish when you start writing more than once per week, and why surprises induce stronger feelings of gratitude: It’s easy to get numb to the regular sources of goodness in our lives.
Indeed, Emmons told me that when people start keeping a gratitude journal, he recommends that they see each item they list in their journal as a gift—in fact, he suggests that they “make the conscious effort to associate it with the word ‘gift.’” Here are the exact instructions he gives participants in his studies:
Be aware of your feelings and how you “relish” and “savor” this gift in your imagination. Take the time to be especially aware of the depth of your gratitude.
“In other words,” he says, “we tell them not to hurry through this exercise as if it were just another item on your to-do list. This way, gratitude journaling is really different from merely listing a bunch of pleasant things in one’s life.”
So why might this particular practice do such good for our minds and bodies? Emmons points to research showing that translating thoughts into concrete language—whether oral or written—has advantages over just thinking the thoughts: It makes us more aware of them, deepening their emotional impact.
“Writing helps to organize thoughts, facilitate integration, and helps you accept your own experiences and put them in context,” he says. “In essence, it allows you to see the meaning of events going on around you and create meaning in your own life.”
It has become common for therapists to recommend writing about unpleasant, even traumatic events (a practice we’ll discuss in the teleseminar I’ll be participating in this Friday, hosted by the National Association of Memoir Writers). Similarly, says Emmons, gratitude journals may help us “bring a new and redemptive frame of reference to a difficult life situation.”
Though he does have suggestions for how to keep a gratitude journal, Emmons also stresses that “there is no one right way to do it.” There’s no evidence that journaling at the start of the day is any more effective than journaling before you go to bed, for instance. And aesthetics really don’t matter.
“You don’t need to buy a fancy personal journal to record your entries in, or worry about spelling or grammar,” says Emmons. “The important thing is to establish the habit of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events.”
5. WIKIPEDIA’S TAKE ON GRATITUDE
FROM WIKIPEDIA, WWW.EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG/WIKI/GRATITUDE
FW: Like any human, democratic endeavor, Wikipedia is not perfect, but it is very useful most of the time. In this case, it is superb…
Gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation is a positive emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. The experience of gratitude has historically been a focus of several world religions, and has been considered extensively by moral philosophers such as Adam Smith. The systematic study of gratitude within psychology only began around the year 2000, possibly because psychology has traditionally been focused more on understanding distress rather than understanding positive emotions. However, with the advent of the positive psychology movement, gratitude has become a mainstream focus of psychological research. The study of gratitude within psychology has focused on the understanding of the short term experience of the emotion of gratitude (state gratitude), individual differences in how frequently people feel gratitude (trait gratitude), and the relationship between
these two aspects.
GRATITUDE AS EMOTION
Gratitude is an emotion that occurs after people receive help, depending on how they interpret the situation. Specifically, gratitude is experienced if people perceive the help they receive as (a) valuable to them, (b) costly to their benefactor, and (c) given by the benefactor with benevolent intentions (rather than ulterior motives). When faced with identical situations where they have been given help, different people view the situation very differently in terms of value, cost, and benevolent intentions, and this explains why people feel differing levels of gratitude after they have been helped. People who generally experience more gratitude in life habitually interpret help as more costly, more beneficial, and more beneficially intended; and this habitual bias explains why some people feel more gratitude than others.
GRATITUDE AND INDEBTEDNESS
Gratitude is not the same as indebtedness. While both emotions occur following help, indebtedness occurs when a person perceives that they are under an obligation to make some repayment of compensation for the aid. The emotions lead to different actions; indebtedness can motivate the recipient of the aid to avoid the person who has helped them, whereas gratitude can motivate the recipient to seek out their benefactor and to improve their relationship with them.
GRATITUDE AS A MOTIVATOR OF BEHAVIOR
Gratitude may also serve to reinforce future prosocial behavior in benefactors. For example, one experiment found that customers of a jewelry store who were called and thanked showed a subsequent 70% increase in purchases. In comparison, customers who were thanked and told about a sale showed only a 30% increase in purchases, and customers who were not called at all did not show an increase. In another study, regular patrons of a restaurant gave bigger tips when servers wrote “Thank you” on their checks.
MAJOAR THEORETICAL APPROACHES TO GRATITUDE
The link between spirituality and gratitude has recently become a popular subject of study. While these two characteristics are certainly not dependent on each other, studies have found that spirituality is capable of enhancing a person’s ability to be grateful and therefore, those who regularly attend religious services or engage in religious activities are more likely to have a greater sense of gratitude in all areas of life. Gratitude is viewed as a prized human propensity in the Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu traditions. Worship with gratitude to God is a common theme in such religions and therefore, the concept of gratitude permeates religious texts, teachings, and traditions. For this reason, it is one of the most common emotions that religions aim to provoke and maintain in followers and is regarded as a universal religious sentiment 
HEBRAIC CONCEPTIONS OF GRATITUDE
In Judaism, gratitude is an essential part of the act of worship and a part of every aspect of a worshiper’s life. According to the Hebrew worldview, all things come from God and because of this, gratitude is extremely important to the followers of Judaism. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with the idea of gratitude. Two examples included in the psalms are “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever,” and “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart” (Ps. 30:12; Ps. 9:1). The Jewish prayers also often incorporate gratitude beginning with the Shema, where the worshiper states that out of gratitude, “You shall love the Eternal, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). The concluding prayer, the Alenu, also speaks of gratitude by thanking God for the particular destiny of the Jewish people. Along with these prayers, faithful worshipers recite more than one hundred blessings called berakhots throughout the day.
CHRISTIAN CONCEPTIONS OF GRATITUDE
Gratitude has been said to mold and shape the entire Christian life. Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, referred to gratitude as “The basic Christian attitude” and today it is still referred to as “the heart of the gospel.” As each Christian believes they were created by a personal God, Christians are strongly encouraged to praise and give gratitude to their creator. In Christian gratitude, God is seen as the selfless giver of all good things and because of this, there is a great sense of indebtedness that enables Christians to share a common bond, shaping all aspects of a follower’s life. Gratitude in Christianity is an acknowledgment of God’s generosity that inspires Christians to shape their own thoughts and actions around such ideals. Instead of simply a sentimental feeling, Christian gratitude is regarded as a virtue that shapes not only emotions and thoughts but actions and deeds as well. According to 17th century revivalist preacher and theologian, Johnathan Edwards, in his A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections Love, Gratitude, and thankfulness toward God are among the signs of true religion. Because of this interpretation, modern measures of religious spirituality include assessments of thankfulness and gratitude towards God. Allport (1950) suggested that mature religious intentions come from feelings of profound gratitude and Edwards (1746/1959) claimed that the “affection” of gratitude is one of the most accurate ways of finding the presence of God in a person’s life. In a study done by Samuels and Lester (1985) it was contended that in a small sample of Catholic nuns and priests, out of 50 emotions, love and gratitude were the most experienced emotion towards God.
ISLAMIC CONCEPTIONS OF GRATITUDE
The Islamic book, The Quran, is filled with the idea of gratitude. Islam encourages its followers to be grateful and express thanks to God in all circumstances. Islamic teaching emphasizes the idea that those who are grateful will be rewarded with great pleasures. A traditional Islamic saying states that, “The first who will be summoned to paradise are those who have praised God in every circumstance” In the Quran it is also stated in Sura 14 that those who are grateful will be given more pleasures by God. The prophet Mohammad also said, “Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue.” Many practices of the Islamic faith also encourage gratitude. The Pillar of Islam calling for daily prayer encourages believers to pray to God five times a day in order to thank him for his goodness. The pillar of fasting during the month of Ramadan is for the purpose of putting the believer in a state of gratitude.
INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN GRATITUDE
Much of the recent work psychological research into gratitude has focused on the nature of individual difference in gratitude, and the consequences of being a more or less grateful person. Three scales have been developed to measure individual differences in gratitude, each of which assesses somewhat different conceptions. The GQ6 measures individual differences in how frequently and intensely people feel gratitude. The Appreciation Scale measures 8 different aspects of gratitude: appreciation of people, possessions, the present moment, rituals, feeling of awe, social comparisons, existential concerns, and behaviour which expresses gratitude. The GRAT assesses gratitude towards other people, gratitude towards the world in general, and a lack of resentment for what you do not have. A recent study showed that each of these scales are actually all measuring the same way of approaching life; this suggests that individual differences in gratitude include all of these components.
GRATITUDE AND WELL-BEING
A large body of recent work has suggested that people who are more grateful have higher levels of well-being. Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships Grateful people also have higher levels of control of their environments, personal growth, purpose in life, and self acceptance. Grateful people have more positive ways of coping with the difficulties they experience in life, being more likely to seek support from other people, reinterpreted and grow from the experience, and spend more time planning how to deal with the problem. Grateful people also have less negative coping strategies, being less likely to try to avoid the problem, deny there is a problem, blame themselves, or cope through substance use. Grateful people sleep better, and this seems to be because they think less negative and more positive thoughts just before going to sleep.
Gratitude has been said to have one of the strongest links with mental health of any character trait. Numerous studies suggest that grateful people are more likely to have higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress and depression. In one study concerning gratitude, participants were randomly assigned to one of six therapeutic intervention conditions designed to improve the participant’s overall quality of life (Seligman et. all., 2005). Out of these conditions, it was found that the biggest short-term effects came from a “gratitude visit” where participants wrote and delivered a letter of gratitude to someone in their life. This condition showed a rise in happiness scores by 10 percent and a significant fall in depression scores, results which lasted up to one month after the visit. Out of the six conditions, the longest lasting effects were caused by the act of writing “gratitude journals” where participants were asked to write down three things they were grateful for every day. These participants’ happiness scores also increased and continued to increase each time they were tested periodically after the experiment. In fact, the greatest benefits were usually found to occur around six months after treatment began. This exercise was so successful that although participants were only asked to continue the journal for a week, many participants continued to keep the journal long after the study was over. Similar results have been found from studies conducted by Emmons and McCullough (2003) and Lyubomirsky et. all. (2005).
Whilst many emotions and personality traits are important to well-being, there is evidence that gratitude may be uniquely important. First, a longitudinal study showed that people who were more grateful coped better with a life transition. Specifically, people who were more grateful before the transition were less stressed, less depressed, and more satisfied with their relationships three months later. Second, two recent studies have suggested that gratitude may have a unique relationship with well-being, and can explain aspects of well-being that other personality traits cannot. Both studies showed that gratitude was able to explain more well-being than the Big Five and 30 of the most commonly studied personality traits.
GRATITUDE AND ALTRUISM
Gratitude has also been shown to improve a person’s altruistic tendencies. One study conducted by David DeSteno and Monica Bartlett (2010) found that gratitude is correlated with economic generosity. In this study, using an economic game, increased gratitude was shown to directly mediate increased monetary giving. From these results, this study shows that gracious people are more likely to sacrifice individual gains for communal profit (DeSteno & Bartlett, 2010). A Study conducted by McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, (2002) found similar correlations between gratitude and empathy, generosity, and helpfulness.
INTERVENTIONS TO INCREASE GRATITUDE
Given that gratitude appears to be a strong determinant of people’s well-being, several psychological interventions have been developed to increase gratitude. For example, Watkins and colleagues had participants test a number of different gratitude exercises, such as thinking about a living person for whom they were grateful, writing about someone for whom they were grateful, and writing a letter to deliver to someone for whom they were grateful. Participants in the control condition were asked to describe their living room. Participants who engaged in a gratitude exercise showed increases in their experiences of positive emotion immediately after the exercise, and this effect was strongest for participants who were asked to think about a person for whom they were grateful. Participants who had grateful personalities to begin with showed the greatest benefit from these gratitude exercises.
According to Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Multiple studies have shown the correlation between gratitude and increased wellbeing not only for the individual but for all people involved. The positive psychology movement has embraced these studies and in an effort to increase overall wellbeing, has begun to make an effort to incorporate exercises to increase gratitude into the movement. Although in the past gratitude has been neglected by psychology, in recent years much progress has been made in studying gratitude and its positive effects.
For references see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratitude
6. THIS MONTH’S LINKS:
LIVING A LIVE OF GRATITUDE CAN MAKE YOU HAPPY…
BOOKS ON THE POWER & PRACTICE OF GRATITUDE…
GET A DAILY GRATITUDE REMINDER…
THE RESEARCH-PROVEN BENEFITS OF GRATITUDE…
FW: And to help you get through the next few weeks…
STAN FREBERG’S SPOOF ON THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF CHRISTMAS…
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