Irving Berlin (1888-1989) was a Russian American musician and composer, considered by many to be one of the greatest songwriters in the country’s history. Berlin’s songbook shapes a great portion of Americana music.

During his 60-year career, Berlin wrote about 1500 songs, including the music for 20 Broadway musicals and 15 Hollywood films. Of Berlin, America’s anchorman Walter Cronkite once said, “He helped write the story of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives.”

One of the movies scored by Berlin’s talents was the 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire favorite, Holiday Inn. The film is built around the premise that an entertainment venue in Connecticut would only be open on holidays. Berlin wrote music for each holiday, but is best remembered for Easter’s Easter Parade and the Christmas’ White Christmas.

For the Thanksgiving holiday, Berlin wrote, “I’ve got plenty to be thankful for; No private car, no caviar, no carpet on my floor; Still I’ve got plenty to be thankful for. I’ve got eyes to see with, ears to hear with, arms to hug with, lips to kiss with, someone I adore.”

We have been spending a few weeks thinking about the things we can put in our minds to bring about positive results in our attitudes and behaviors. Nurturing and developing our minds spurs positive growth in our lives. We looked first at the benefits of being ardent readers, then pondered the role of music. Today let’s give a final thought to the importance of gratitude.

Tracy Brower, a contributor for Forbes.com website, writes, “I write about happiness, work-life fulfillment and the future of work. Gratitude is a powerful positive force. Far from being a fluffy or frivolous concept, it has real impact on physical health, emotional wellbeing, motivation, engagement and belonging.”

The word “gratitude” comes from the Latin language and a word that blends grace, graciousness and gratefulness, depending upon the context of the word. While gratitude pushes us toward an appreciation of what’s received, whether tangible or intangible, the result also drives us to recognize that the source of much of our blessings lies outside ourselves. Sometimes that source is other people, sometimes nature, but sometimes we are driven to a higher power.

Science is supporting these beliefs through recent research. Studies from Harvard, Positive Psychology, the University of California at Davis and Forbes.com affirm benefits that are almost unending from having an attitude of thankfulness. Let’s look at some of the benefits and then think about how we can maintain the attitude over time.

According to Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at University of California at Davis, one of the reasons that gratitude is so beneficial is that it is a selfless act. We spend the majority of our time thinking in a very self-centered way. Gratitude directs action toward others in an unconditional way, showing people they are appreciated.

Gratitude influences two key processes in our lives. First gratitude touches catharsis, the process where an individual releases strong emotions. If I fail to meet some obligations, I apologize and rectify the circumstance in an attempt to relieve my own guilt and mend the relationship. Both parties receive satisfaction because of the communication and the action.

Gratitude also affects the process of reciprocity, which involves the exchange of actions. Suppose you are having a quick bowl of chili for lunch with a friend who politely offers to pay for the outing. You squabble about the bill for a moment, but because the friend insists, you feel grateful for the friend and your relationship. You also walk away feeling as if the next meal will be “your treat.”

Another interesting finding of this research discovered a person cannot be stressed and thankful at the same time. Reduced stress is a byproduct of being grateful. Gratitude extends our happiness because it changes negativity and cynicism. Gratitude helps us be more adaptive and strengthens our coping skills. Gratitude pushes us from difficulties toward blessings.

The result of better communication, strong and healthy relationships and less stress is better health. Research shows that people who are grateful sleep better, have lowered blood pressure and actually live longer. In addition, studies from 2017 at University of California at Berkeley affirm that gratitude improves mental health. Expressing gratitude has lasting positive effects upon the mind.

Let’s finish our time today by focusing on ways that we can cultivate a spirit of gratitude inside. Here are four important strategies:

• Begin each day by thinking about your expectations for the day and consider the things you are thankful for. Always picture multiple blessings because just only thinking about one thing can be trivial and mindless. Be concrete and not vague with your thoughts.

• Write things down. Research from Kent State University found that when you write things down they become more real to you as you pause, reflect and ponder as you write. The simple act of writing improves happiness and peace.

• Let some things go. Because so much of life spins out of our control, we tend to grasp tightly upon the things we think we can control. The use of such energy often breeds a negative and critical spirit. Don’t shipwreck your day over a barnacle.

• Be more expressive. When you share what you are grateful for through actions and words, a dynamic power is released. Expressing actions of thanks helps both you and others.

From the Catbird Seat, sometimes a completely different perspective evolves from gratitude. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” I end my day thankful for you, the reader, and for our community, for a newspaper through which we can communicate our thoughts and perspectives, and for the hope that together we can make a difference.

Tom May is a freelance writer and educator, and a columnist for the News and Tribune. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com

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