What can nature teach us about gratitude?
It can teach us that being thankful is normal, according to the Greater Good Science Center.
This University of California Berkeley campus research center has studied the natural occurrence of gratitude in nature and one of their stories is particularly impressive.
“In December of 2005, a 50-foot, 50-ton, female humpback whale got tangled in crab lines and was in danger of drowning. After a team of divers freed her, she nuzzled each of her rescuers in turn and flapped around in what one whale expert said was ‘a rare and remarkable encounter,’” rescuer James Moskito recalled.
“It felt to me like it was thanking us, knowing it was free and that we had helped it,” he concluded.
But what if our natural “gratitude gene” seems to be lost amid life’s troubles?
According to Julie Ruchniewicz, of the Parish Nurse Ministry of Advocate Health Care in Evanston Illinois, there is something we can do about it and doing so is beneficial. She writes, “Interestingly enough, it has been determined that you can cultivate a positive attitude, with a little practice. Working on your sense of gratitude can help you maintain a more positive mood in your daily life and add to emotional well-being. People with a greater level of gratitude tend to have stronger relationships, are happier and sleep better. Since relationships, happiness and sleep contribute to your health; grateful people tend to be healthier.”
I’m also in the “cultivating gratitude” camp. It just feels natural to want to express thanks.
Recently due to a change in my personal situation, a 30 minute commute to volunteer at a juvenile detention center became a 4½ hour journey at the end of my work day. I found myself resenting that longer commute even though I loved conducting a Bible Study there. I had been doing this for several years, and although others have stepped forward to help, I was still covering a need once a month on Monday evenings.
About half way through our Bible Study, I noticed several of the kids were shivering. Apparently the heating was not working where we had been assigned to meet and they were all in short sleeves. I suggested we end the session early so they could go back to their warm rooms. “No! You must stay. You’re blessing us!” they protested.
I continued until the end of our allotted time, inspired and rejuvenated! In fact their expressed appreciation for the Bible Study lifted the resentment over the commute right out of my thought. And I still feel only joy when I think about them. I believe I witnessed what this thought from a favorite stanza in the Christian Science Hymnal describes, “And every weary child shall turn in gratitude toward Thee, the Light.”
Gratitude is a powerful antidote! A pioneer in the science of Christianity, Mary Baker Eddy commented, “Under affliction in the very depths, stop and contemplate what you have to be grateful for.” Jesus illustrated this when he gave thanks to God before what we would think of as impossible challenges. And then he went forward…
Finding a reason to give thanks can also help us progress. “If you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude you’ll not be on speaking terms with happiness.” (anonymous) A good beginning isn’t it for our holiday season?