Attitude of Gratitude: The Benefits

Through Christ's Strength

Okay, I am excited right now. I am very excited and happy and grateful! Among the obvious reasons are the fact that two of my good friends just got engaged in the past week, my cousin is dating an amazing guy, and my sister recently got yet another outstanding music scholarship. My suite mate and I spring cleaned our apartment, I was able to make a larger tuition payment upfront than I thought I could, five of my other friends and a cousin are knee deep in wedding planning, I spend yesterday afternoon in Julien on a location scout at a gorgeous vineyard, and my roommate just got back from Virginia. On top of that I just spent a sweet half hour putting the two-year-old darling I babysit to bed after an hour of enjoying Disney’s Robin Hood, tomorrow I am going to an early Mass and coffee with a dear friend and then picking more friends up from the airport, and I am half done with my pre-reading assignments for the start of the quarter on Monday. The list could go on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been having my fair share of insecurities, frustrations, lack of time, and other such pains this week, too. It is appropriate, however, to take this moment to focus on the fact that my heart is overflowing with happiness and jumping with joy. (My friends and siblings can attest to the fact that if I was around them at the moment I would be talking ninety miles per hour and physically dancing around.)

I could choose to dwell on some major frustrations and personal pains, but I simply don’t want to in this snapshot of time. There are so many things to be thankful for. Besides, I notice that the more I give thanks for the blessings, the happier my mood, the easier it is to meet the rest of my battles head on. It’s actually scientifically proven.

The benefits of having an attitude of gratitude include opening the door to more relationships, sleeping better at night, improving physical and psychological health, and increasing self-esteem, empathy and mental health as is put forth by Psychology Today in an article.

A Harvard Health Publications article announced studies by the Universities of California and Miami that show persons who write about things they were grateful for had more optimistic outlooks within ten weeks than a second group that only wrote about irritations.

A second study mentioned by the same publication and conducted at the University of Pennsylvania showed that those who wrote a simple letter of thanks to someone from their early memories who had never been properly thanked witness a high increase in satisfaction.

Books such as Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray also show a pattern of greater well-being and happiness in the relationships of couples who take time to verbally or otherwise communicatively appreciate each other.

“Remember the past with gratitude. Live the present with enthusiasm. Look forward to the future with confidence,” St. John Paul II spoke to us people in modern cultures. The truth is, gratitude breeds enthusiasm which imbues a human person with enough confidence in the goodness of creation to move forward unflinchingly into the future. It’s well worth a bit of extra effort.

These are three things that I find helpful in maintaining the perks of gratitude:

  1. Say “thank you” to a person for something every day.

Make that magical phrase for something unique and personal to show that you really mean it and put thought into it. Something a little more than merely for food or holding a door open, but don’t forget to give thanks for those unparalleled daily blessings as well.

2. Each week give a written thank you note to a person who particularly reached out to you in the course of the past seven days. 

It doesn’t have to be a long note. Simply show them you noticed, appreciated, and cared that they cared for you. It goes a long way toward brightening someone’s day, strengthening their resolve to keep doing those things, and fostering a relationship because you are joyfully appreciative.

3. Each morning when you wake up and each night as you lie down, repeat out loud three things you are thankful for in anticipation of the day and for what happened during the day. 

This is an especially important little step because it bookends the day with generous, blessed thoughts. If you are especially ambitious, try taking some of your annoyances or pains from the day, find what you learned from them, and thank God for those lessons.

“The Lord has given this land to us, no need to fuss. He knows what he’s doing. We know that he will take care of us if we will follow him.”  –Veggie Tales

Photo Credit: Maria Andress

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It’s Not My Place to Question

I didn’t know today would be our last

Or that I’d have to say goodbye to you so fast

I’m so numb, I can’t feel anymore

Prayin’ you’d just walk back through that door

And tell me that I was only dreamin’

You’re not really gone as long as I believe.

“Jealous of the Angels” by Jenn Bostic is a song on my list that I play on loop every so often as a cathartic way of breathing out the emotions in my heart. It is a song of loss, particularly from death, but I’ve found it relatable in another way.

My mom had always told us when we were homeschooled that our sisters would always be our best friends. I was never sure I believed that all the way, but it was written as a thick leaf in my book of life as Michaeline, my younger sister nearest in age, became my confidante, my guide, my champion, and my fellow conspirator. And then she was gone. And I could not understand why the one girl I actually looked up to and trusted with all my heart was taken away.

My heart numbed when half of it broke off and ran away after her as she entered the Carmelite cloister. That was two years ago, and it hasn’t gotten easier. Maybe I don’t sit in the quiet darkness of my room and sob my heart out nearly as often as I did the first six months when I missed sharing everything with my sister so much. Maybe now I can see my sister for an hour or two three times a year and enjoy those moments no matter how hard I take it afterwards. But deep down, my heart has become very vulnerable to loss.

In the couple ensuing years, I seem to have a knack for forming deep bonds with the most amazing souls who are then suddenly asked to put out into the deep again and journey far away. Usually they happen to be the dear friends that I clicked with immediately and deeply in vulnerability, caring, laughter, spirituality, nurturing, and the other more goofy things that good friends can do together. Every time it’s the ones I look up to. Every time it opens my heart up again a little more at the throbbing incision inflicted when I gave up my first best friend.

And once more this week this is the point I stand at. Another sweetheart is leaving. The loss is for everyone at school because this particular girl is widely thought of as the kindest, purest person at our small university. In a special way, however, it brings out a deeper hurt in me. Of all last fall’s incoming class, she was the one that I completely bonded with within the first week on our kitchen floor, and from there we only grew closer in an older/little sister bond that had the familiar sweetness of the one with Michaeline. I love and esteem this friend so much. In her I find a comfort and a call to be a better version of myself while she also looks up to me and finds the good things I don’t know about myself. Together we have a treasure. I know that we’ll be visiting each other and keeping in touch, but there’s still a hurt in the separation. That’s when I think of the second verse of Jenn Bostic’s song:

“You always made my troubles feel so small

And you were always there to catch me when I’d fall

In a world where heroes come and go

Well, God just took the only one I know

So I’ll hold you as close as I can

Longing for the day, when I see your face again

But until then…”

Somewhere in the communion of saints and the Church Militant, the ties of our souls are working together for a deeper purpose than chance meetings and fleeting bonds.

I said it never gets easier to not question in the pain. The heart passes through a link of seasons though, and in those seasons I go through different moments of realizing the pain as new ways of growing in a different relationship with the dear, little souls I’ve lost.

“It’s not my place to question, only God knows why…” Sometimes I do ask why we formed such a deep bond. Why yet again a true friendship is taking new directions away from the dynamic of living near each other and into the more spiritual and emotional aspect of long-distance. Why all these moments?

A realization I shared a couple weeks ago with another close friend still here at school comes back to hearten me. These bonds, experiences, and friendships are not like rocks we carry for a bit and then tumble down the trail of life as useless; they are like rocks we build houses or roads with. They are foundations for what comes next, and we will often come back to them in new light or revisit these old haunts throughout life—when we are meant to.

And in that realization, I know that the dear, little, gone souls who have a piece of my heart forever with them are not truly lost. We won’t have a physically close proximity together anymore, but in our bond friendship finds new ways of union and different methods of keeping in touch. The threads that tie us together from so far away were fastened for a reason that only God knows. Their love “lives on inside of me” and I can’t help but “hold on tight.”

Amidst the bittersweetness of the love and loss, hope says that the interweaving of our lives is not over yet. But in the meantime I’ve learned it is okay to find relief and solace in the tears of a strengthening vulnerability to the pain.

The Point of Blood

PandF

It’s the end of a crazy quarter at school, and the middle of the most stressful finals week at university I’ve ever had. But in the midst of it all, St. Perpetua and Felicity’s feast day was yesterday. I am very positive that their martyrdom experience was much harder than any university finals week I will ever go through. After all, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood,” as St. Paul writes in Hebrews 12:4. Perpetua and Felicity (Felicitas in the Latin) certainly did. Theirs is a story of friendship across race and rank as well as the martyrdom of two young mothers. Continue reading “The Point of Blood”