By David Anderson
“Slow down, you move too fast” – the opening lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song” – express a whimsical, and at the same time wistful, theme that has been adopted by runners, rowers, and even psychological ‘ruminators’.
And ‘pacing’ has everything to do with thanksgiving.
This is the second in a series on ‘thankfulness’ – the Character Quality of the Month Project – having the ‘attitude of gratitude’ our theme for November. On the Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association website, www.MeetTheNeighbors.org, there are listed 15 benefits of being a grateful person. And to encourage readers to begin discussing, and implementing, this topic, we’re conducting a contest for who can come up with the most memorable acrostic listing those benefits. Sue Rothwell, owner of Gertie’s Grill in Tillicum, has offered a “Big Foot” dinner to the winner.
‘Tis the Season
With my apologies to Andy Williams, ‘It’s the Most Stressful Time of the Year.’ It’s not Thanksgiving yet but Christmas decorations are already on display. Apropos then is an article on the important reflective aspects of having the attitude of gratitude.
“Start slow and get slower” PLU’s crew coach used to tell us novice scullers, intending we should work on the basic rudiments of each stroke before attempting speed. Otherwise, and we would learn the hard way, there was a price to pay in those skinny boats plowing through cold dark waters: miss a stroke and you’re over.
There’s even an international ‘slow-down movement’ begun in 2004, encouraging people to eat better, exercise more, and otherwise take time to enjoy life in the slow lane – even as ‘60’s folk rock artists S&G cheerily greet the lamp post– “come to watch your flowers growin’ ”.
Interestingly the country that lags far behind in what amounts to an effort to turn back the clock and get that extra hour of sleep, is us – the United States. The slow-down movement just hasn’t gained much momentum here where we come from.
The obsession of gettin’ where we’re goin’ in the least amount of time – motoring through life at a breakneck pace – exacts a toll on our ability – responsibility really – to be a grateful people.
And the price is far greater than simply missing a stroke and going over. We’re missing out on, and going under, the many benefits that accompany having an attitude of gratitude.
In a test to determine which of two groups of people would be most impacted by engaging in a very simple ‘thankfulness’ exercise, Group A was asked to write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone in their life. Members of Group B were to keep a ‘gratitude journal’ in which they wrote down just three things they were thankful for each day. Which do you suppose demonstrated increases in their ‘happiness scores’, accompanied by a significant fall in depression, and for how long? The answers at the end of this article.
There are 30 commonly studied personality traits. Then there are “The Big Five” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_five_personality_traits) . But as to well-being nothing, according to research, beats the ‘attitude of gratitude.’ Like the “Got Milk?” ad – named one of the ten best commercials of all time by a USA Today poll in 2002 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Got_Milk%3F , ‘getting gratitude’ has been judged by psychologists as the number one way to be happy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratitude#cite_note-39).
Let alone a host of other pluses, a “life-I-love-you” mental framework is built on the foundation of a hugely underestimated, and therefore underutilized, simple expression.
Gratitude is, by definition, a ‘people-connectedness’ quality. From the Latin “gratus” which means “pleasing” – gratefulness, and its synonym thankfulness, describe people who are pleasing to be around.
Such people – thankful, reflective, appreciative people – resonate with something deep within all people, a gnawing need to be accepted, described in Applebee’s America as “an insatiable hunger.” Taking the time to connect with people – appreciating others not for their votes but for their values; catering to their menu choices not to improve the bottom line but to give them a sense of place; preaching not to the choir but to folks who’ve found the church a hospital rather than a citadel – these all are harbingers of hope in a particularly disenchanted, increasingly distanced, sadly disconnected public.
“Only through association is there transformation,” wrote Hans Finzel, President and CEO of Worldventure. And failure to associate, to connect, to understand the importance of community, is one of “the top ten mistakes leaders make” which, incidentally, is the title of Finzel’s book. How to avoid making that mistake? Practice the attitude of gratitude. Observes Finzel, “Everyone thrives on affirmation and praise. We wildly underestimate the power of the tiniest personal touch of kindness. People thrive on praise.”
Get ‘er done
Tom Peters, guru of all that’s good that comes from governing-well, tells of a boss who “religiously took about 15 minutes (max) at the end of each day to jot a half-dozen paragraph-long notes to people who’d given him time during the day or who’d made a provocative remark at some meeting.”1
So it’s not like being thankful requires a tank-full of time. Just some time. ‘Sometime we ought to get together, or write that letter, or make that phone call’ is to not ever get it done. Because sometime never comes.
One of the best practical ways to be happy is to habitually practice the attitude of gratitude daily. For the expenditure of a mere sixty-nine cents the process can begin. That’s because the results of the experiment, mentioned earlier, indicate the keeping of a grateful journal has both immediate and far-longer lasting results than writing an occasional thank-you card. The letter-writers and card-senders did show a rise in happiness scores – by 10 percent, along with a significant fall in depression scores, results which lasted up to a month. But the ‘grateful journal’ folks, who had been entering into their pocket notebook just three things they were thankful for each day, not only were happier, their scores were still rising six months later because they had remained at it, even though the experiment was only for one week (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratitude#cite_note-31).
Write it. If you want to be happier, less-stressful, more satisfied – less this, more that – then slow down enough, to reflect enough, to carve out time enough, to thank someone that they cared enough to do what they did or be who they are.
Post it. There must be a movement afoot because on Facebook recently there have been people posting reasons they’re thankful, and frankly – from the husband-to-wife expressions found there – it’s making some of us guys look bad. Other wives read that stuff after all and they could get the idea (happily) that they all should be treated that way. You can even post your reasons-for-thanksgiving here on www.thesubtimes.com, similar to what entire websites have been created to do (http://www.iamthankful.com/).
Journal it. But if you want to live happily ever after – if we are to believe those who’ve studied this quality extensively – then stop by your favorite store where they sell pocket notebooks and purchase one. Then dutifully, and diligently, do the three-a-day drill, and who knows, maybe together we can speed up in the slow down movement and catch up with the rest of the world.