Here in the U.S. it is Thanksgiving Day, my favorite holiday. We all should take the chance to remember the goodness in our lives, the people and opportunities that bring us joy. There are good reasons -- from both psychology and religion -- to do this. In The Psychology of Gratitude, for example, we learn that practicing gratitude improves our heart functioning and cognitive abilities. Our psychological attitude can have genuine physical benefits, as well as more intangible effects.
The fact that research is focusing on subjects like gratitude is, well, something that I'm grateful for. For many, many years, psychologists have focused on what goes wrong. The recent move toward positive psychology is a welcome addition to the field. It is also one that has important religious components, as Lorne Ladner points out in his essay on Buddhism and Positive Psychology. A positive approach to psychology can generate significant improvements where previous efforts have failed.
Many people have recognized the religious significance of gratitude:
Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.
- Alfred Painter
Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.
- Henry Ward Beecher
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
- Albert Schweitzer
Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
- Marcel Proust
If the only prayer you say in your life is "thank you," that would suffice.
- Meister Eckhart
Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.
- The Buddha
So, whether you are a theist, an atheist, or undecided, pause for a moment to say a prayer of thank you. Tell people that you appreciate them. Follow the advice of Buddha, Eckhart, and others: recognize your blessings, and give thanks. It may not change the world, but it can change your world.