Posts filed under ‘Thanksgiving’
By John D. Clague, Christian Science Committee on Publication for Oregon.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, probably because it’s a time to especially acknowledge the gratitude I feel for all the good in my life.
A dictionary might define this term, thanksgiving, as “an act of giving thanks”, but I think it means more than that. It goes beyond uttering words of thanks to expressing it in concrete ways. It’s more action oriented and isn’t focused on me. Rather, my gratitude should impel action.
There are many examples of people selflessly helping others. I think immediately of incidents like:
Hundreds of boat owners and ferry pilots converging on the Manhattan shoreline to evacuate stranded New Yorkers after the World Trade Center towers collapsed.
People in my community working at food banks and soup kitchens for the homeless.
Victor Frankl observing fellow prisoners of war coping through simple acts of sharing and encouragement.
These are people engaging in helping acts with no expectation of anything in return.
Why do we do it if there’s no expectation of reciprocal acts of kindness or money?
As a Christian, I might see The Golden Rule as a motivator out of obedience. And for those of other faith traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism there are similar guiding principles. But is this really what motivates adherents of any tradition to act for the benefit of others?
In examining my own impulses along this line I feel moved to do for others because I’m grateful for the good in my life which I feel comes from God. Perhaps giving to others as an expression of gratitude is the Divine working in the lives of others.
This could be why an unexpected result appears for the giver: it’s good for your health.
Stephen G. Post, PhD. has been researching this notion that helping others is actually beneficial to the helper. In his report It’s Good to be Good: 2011 Fifth Annual Scientific Report on Health, Happiness and Helping Others, Post makes these observations.
“My working hypothesis is that one of the healthiest things a person can do is to step back from self-preoccupation and self-worry, as well as from hostile and bitter emotions; there is no more obvious way of doing this than focusing attention on helping others.
“There is solid evidence to support the perennial hypothesis that benevolent emotions, attitudes, and actions centered on the good of others contribute to the giver’s happiness, health, and even longevity. Although genuine benevolence must be chiefly motivated by concern for others, it has the side effect of nourishing the giver.”
Linda P. Fried, M.D., director of the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins found that : “Older adults who volunteer in troubled urban schools not only improve the educational experience of children, but realize meaningful improvements in their own mental and physical health.”
Perhaps a good example of this is the Catholic nun who volunteered in our local jail for many years. She devoted her life to helping those in trouble with the law to better themselves through various programs. Last time I checked she was well over 90 years old and still going strong!
Robert A. Barnett says that “We consistently find that volunteering and helping behavior is associated with a reduced risk of mortality. We see this over and over again in prospective studies that control for other variables, such as baseline health and gender.”
Thinking about this more deeply, what if more of us worked harder to love and help out our fellow women and men? I mean really approach them with compassion, forgiveness, and a longing for their well-being impelled by gratitude for all the good in our lives. Might it make us feel better? Perhaps we would live in healthier, more connected communities.
The implications are profound. I make it an axiom that I can never be harmed by helping others. Now, I see it actually helps my health, too.
First published on OregonLive.
By John D. Clague, Christian Science Committee on Publication
About a year ago, not long before Thanksgiving, I was invited to participate on an Oregon Public Broadcasting live panel discussion focused on the theme “…how people hold on to their faith when it is tested.” It was an interesting discussion with lively audience participation.
“Lively” for sure. More than half the audience, and it was open to the public, was made up of various anti-religion groups self-identified as “humanist” or “rationalist”. More generally we know them as atheist.
At the end of the program I was given the opportunity to make a closing remark. I was praying during that moment to know what would be the most helpful thing to say. Something that would connect with everyone in the room, and yet stay true to my own convictions as a Christian Scientist. In an instant I was inspired to share the idea of gratitude.
Just what is gratitude? We might think of it as being thankful for something we received, a readiness to show appreciation in return of kindness. Perhaps we are thankful for a particular situation that meets our need.
I often feel gratitude for occurrences that have benefited me. More than that, however, I think of gratitude as an outcome of my relationship with God. It’s a recognition of the totality of all good in my life. This has a profound impact on how I feel and what happens to me. But, regardless of whether or not one believes in God or worships a higher Being, everyone can feel and express gratitude, including atheists.
Scientists are also finding that gratitude has a positive effect on one’s experience. A year ago Melinda Beck, a columnist who writes for the Wall Street Journal, wrote about research highlighting the outcomes of gratitude such as a greater sense of well-being and better health. I too have these results when gratitude is the greater portion of my attitude and prayers.
I’m glad that a flash of inspiration impelled me to share the blessing of gratitude with the OPB audience last year. Even those who don’t believe in a higher Being can experience the benefits of being grateful. Beyond a sense of well-being and better health, gratitude opens one’s thought to the wonder of life, the good in humanity, and a sense that we’re part of a larger and grander scheme.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.