2020 has been a horrible year! The Coronavirus pandemic and its economic recession, a rancorous election, personal tragedies and losses, and our inability to gather with family and friends for this week's Thanksgiving holiday make it feel as if there is nothing to be thankful for this year. A sense of gratitude is always valuable though, especially during these challenging times. We might have to look a little more closely for things to be thankful for, but if we do, the benefits for us are considerable.
Earlier this week, I read several articles about the benefits of gratefulness, both physical and spiritual. The reports said that there are many health benefits attached to an attitude of gratitude. They said medical research has found those who seek to find things for which to be thankful suffer less from depression, have lower blood pressure, more energy, and are more optimistic. Having a grateful attitude slows the aging process, who doesn't want that, and balances our outlook on life.
When we think of things to be grateful for, it puts the brakes on stress. Science says it helps reduce our body's production of the stress hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol production in our body can lead to damage to our immune system, something we have to protect during this pandemic, and raises our blood sugar levels. Gratitude also increases our oxytocin levels, which is a good thing. Oxytocin is the hormone that helps to foster our feeling of bonding with other people. That is an excellent thing!
Spiritual benefits also come with an openness to feelings of gratefulness. When we recognize the many blessing we have received, we give God glory and realize just how generous God is to us. It helps us overcome self-centeredness so we can be other-centered instead.
The articles also suggested that people start a Gratitude Journal. They recommend twice a day everyone write three things for which they feel thankful in the journal. Counting our blessings helps us shift our focus from what we don't have to what we do have. The journal helps us develop a greater appreciation for all those who contribute to our feelings of well-being.
As I write this piece, I'm sitting in my office in the Rectory. The sun is shining in on a beautiful fall day. My golden retriever Orla is lying at my feet. I'm finishing this weekly task, and the world doesn't look so ominous after all. I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving 2020.