Consider examples of others who demonstrated thankfulness
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on November 23, 2023)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Veronica Mobley
Denzel Washington is one of the most successful actors of my generation. In a 2004 interview with Oprah Winfrey, he shared a glimpse into his personal life. Washington recalled going home at the height of his career to see his mother. In a moment of pride, he asked his mother if she could believe he had achieved such success.
His mother, also a guest on the show, delivered a reply commonly used in the Black community during that time: "Negro please." Quickly, she followed with "You don't know how many people have been praying for you and for how long."
A strong believer in God, Washington's mother said he became a worldwide star because for years, "Each night before [her mother and father] would go to sleep, they would pray, 'God bless my children and my children's children.'"
This belief system is not uncommon in the Black community, nor is it foreign to me. This is the exact same prayer my mother has prayed over me and my sisters for decades.
As I listened to Washington's mother, I thought about how gratitude is often at the center of one's faith belief. Gratitude is not a stance or trait that I was born with. Rather, it is a learned skill that has been influenced by my mother, family members, mentors, and friends. Long before I knew about the extensive research linking gratitude to better mental health, resiliency and improved work productivity, my mother was teaching us about what it meant to be grateful.
I'm from rural southeast Arkansas. Growing up in the Arkansas Delta builds a type of resilience that gives one the strength to persist in spite of barriers. I didn't always understand how my mom continued to exude gratitude, yet she did.
As our family struggled with food insecurity and a lack of resources, every morning my mother sang gratitude praises to God through gospel songs from John P. Kee, Yolanda Adams, BeBe and CeCe Winans and the Mississippi Mass Choir. She did not allow her situation to impact her gratitude.
I also remember her giving us an early morning gratitude talk, which included daily prayer, as she drove us to school. As a 14-year-old who cared a lot about what my peers thought, I would at times get irritated and embarrassed by my mom praising God for mercy, grace and favor. I have always wondered why my mother was so thankful. As a parent today, working to help my child understand thankfulness, I can now appreciate my mother's transparency in her gratitude journey. So, how can we work to understand gratitude?
According to Dr. Robert Emmons, founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, gratitude involves two stages. The first is to identify the goodness of life itself. This does not mean life is always good, but it is the acknowledgment of the goodness of being able to live life and work to make things better, even if obstacles seem unbearable.
The second stage is to recognize that the sources of goodness are outside of oneself or one's control. I can be grateful for things outside of myself that have significant positive impacts on my social, emotional and physical well-being. Dr. Emmons also highlights that while gratitude is not always associated with religious beliefs, religions such as Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and others have gratitude tenants that can have positive impacts.
So, how do we put gratitude into action in our own lives, even in the face of adversity? Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to write down the small or large things you are thankful for. My wife and I have introduced emotional intelligence building strategies to our 6-year-old child as she works to understand her emotions. Last week, we worked with her to start a gratitude journal. Every few days, she writes down one thing she is thankful for. We then ask her to explain why those things are important to her. It is our hope that the time spent learning this life lesson will stick with her long after my wife and I are gone.
Another way to build gratitude is through meditation. Meditation can be viewed as focusing your mind on a particular thought or activity. In the July 11, 2017, Scientific Reports Journal, researchers reported findings that "gratitude meditation can promote an individual's mental well-being ... and it may be a means of improving both emotion regulation and self-motivation."
I have been utilizing both non-religious and faith-based meditation to help me navigate stress. Why? Because they both have value. Understanding human behavior and the extensive research behind human effectiveness and well-being should not only be explored, but also incorporated in one's life journey. Believing in a higher power that has the ability to answer prayers is important to many communities throughout the world.
As this year rolls to a close with all the joy and stress of the holiday season, and into an election year that will sadly still be full of national and global turmoil, let us not forget we all play a role in each other's gratitude journey.
How we communicate with each other in our communities matters. How we engage with our peers, family, friends, coworkers matters. What also matters is how we engage with those outside of our communities and how we treat people who exist on the other side of our political opinions.
When we lead with gratitude, we harness our own power to inspire gratitude in all circumstances. So, this gratitude season, let us all strive to give more space and time for nurturing and inspiring gratitude.