JOINT-BASE SAN ANTONIO-Randolph, Texas --
Thanksgiving is upon us and with it comes traditions that vary from country to country, state to state, home to home. Whether it’s turkey, pumpkin pie and football, an annual vacation or watching “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” while you prepare the family feast, our rituals help define and refine us.
Just the name of the holiday prepares us for the process of blessing counting, which (for many) results in a deep well of gratitude. And, as it turns out, that attitude of gratitude is good for us.
John Quincy Adams told us “Gratitude, warm, sincere, intense, when it takes possession of the bosom, fills the soul to overflowing and scarce leaves room for any other sentiment or thought.”
Is that a good thing? According to some studies, practicing gratitude improves our personal and professional lives. Gratitude enhances self-esteem, reduces negative emotions and improves resilience. People who practice gratitude are also better able to develop strong relationships and social support systems.
Where does gratitude come from, though? Sources vary as widely as our traditions.
Lt. Col. Paul Steinport, 43rd Flying Training Squadron, Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., said a source of gratitude for him is his unit.
“One of the happiest days of my life was the day I received a ‘Palace Chase approved’ email and I was able to leave active duty and join the 43rd Flying Training Squadron. The full- and part-time reservists are the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to serve with. All the Reserve instructor pilots here are in perpetual great moods and our morale is sky high, which makes me VERY grateful to be a member of Air Force Reserve Command’s finest squadron - the 43rd.”
Work-related gratitude, like Steinport’s, in turn reaps positive career benefits. Gratitude makes many people more effective managers, which enhances their ability to mentor, motivate and praise employees. It also helps people find meaning in their work, which makes difficult times less stressful.
However important or meaningful work is, it doesn’t fan the flames of everyone’s gratitude. Instead, many find that fuel at home.
Maj. Tom Collins, 43rd FTS, has a lot to be grateful for, here in the U.S. (the greatest country in the world, he said). But a principal source of his gratitude has tiny feet and a giant voice.
“I wake up each morning and am grateful that my family is healthy and loves spending time together,” he said. “Walking in the door after being away and hearing my little boy run to the door yelling ‘Daddy's home!’ and then getting the biggest bear hug his arms can give; the smell of my wife cooking a gumbo or a roast; the friends we have made that are now more like family members than friends; hanging out in the backyard grilling while listening to the kids play and make up games... I'm truly grateful for those families who have lost a loved one fighting to preserve our way of life so my family can continue to make these memories.”
Fittingly, people filled with gratitude have an equally positive impact on family and friends.
Studies indicate that grateful people are perceived as trustworthy, socially sound and appreciative of others, which results in stronger romantic relationships, more friends, and a wider social network. Showing gratitude to friends and family members enhances the ability to work through problems, rather than giving up on each other, and people who are grateful view their family and friends in a positive light.
For many, the spiritual aspect of their lives is both root and result of gratitude.
“When I think of the one thing in my life that I am most thankful for, it is something that I don't deserve,” said Maj. Brian Mead, 43rd TRS. “This is the grace and mercy extended to me by my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When I look back on my life before Christ, I see all the rebellion against God in my heart and mind and am thankful that God showed mercy and patience until I accepted this gift and came to that saving knowledge of His Son.”
Faith that all things are according to God’s purpose enables many to get through difficult times. “I am grateful for this promise because it gives me hope that no matter what the hardship is that I face, I know I am not in it alone and it will all work out for good in the end,” Mead said.
Does such spiritual gratitude have measurable benefits?
Studies indicate that spirituality - which can be a deeply meaningful activity, search for the sacred, personal growth, blissful experience, or faith in God or a higher power - helps develop gratitude. Practicing gratitude can get people through spiritually uncertain times, so, the more spiritual a person becomes, the more grateful he or she will become. Spiritual gratitude helps make people less materialistic, and more giving and optimistic.
Clearly, having an attitude of gratitude has tangible and intangible benefits. As your celebrate your Thanksgiving holiday - complete with those uniquely-you traditions - may you be filled with an attitude of gratitude that improves your health, strengthens your relationships, empowers you as a leader and mentor, and fills your spiritual tank to overflowing.
(Data from “Positive Psychology Program”)