Tis the Season to be Grateful, Next Month We’re Supposed to be Jolly

Saying GraceWhat’s the difference? If you’re jolly, aren’t you grateful? According to Dr. Robert Emmons, the author of THANKS! How the New Science of Gratitude can Make you Happier, while there are many things that we can be happy about, the uniqueness of gratitude is that we realize that we have received a gift that we don’t deserve. It’s “the acknowledgement of goodness in one’s life” and secondly “recognizing that the source(s) of this goodness lie at least partially outside the self.” We can only be grateful to others, not to ourselves, so it brings a sense of humility along with the gift (4-8).

Offering grace at the family table, Bart Simpson prayed,

“Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.”

Donald Trump stated,

“All of the women on The Apprentice have flirted with me-consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected” (148).

Gratitude is knowing, at a deep level is an appreciation that what we have received was “freely bestowed out of compassion, generosity, or love” (7). The International Encyclopedia of Ethics defines it as “the heart’s internal indicator when the tally of gifts outweighs the exchanges” (6).

Emmons’s research found that when people took the time to write in a gratitude journal, not only did they feel more appreciative about things that they normally overlooked, but they reported–exercising more, sleeping better, experiencing few physical symptoms and feeling more optimistic about their lives. They were more likely to make progress toward their personal goals and to have offered emotional support to others.

Other important healing benefits are that-

Gratitude counters our natural adaption to pleasant events.

Gratitude mitigates toxic emotions and states like envy, resentment, and regret.

Gratitude strengthens social ties.

Gratitude increases one’s sense of personal worth.

Gratitude has a direct link to cardiovascular functioning.

In his intro to the workshop that I attended at Loma Linda Medical School, Emmons described it like this-

“You feel a deep sense of peace and internal balance-you are at harmony with yourself, with others and with your larger environment. You experience increased buoyancy vitality and flow. Your senses are enlivened—every aspect of your perceptual experience seems richer, more texture. Surprisingly, you fell invigorated at time when you would usually have felt tired and drained. Things that usually would have irked you just don’t “get to you” as much. Your body feels regenerated-your mind, at last, clear. . . At least for a period of time, decisions become obvious as priorities clarify and inner conflict dissolves. Intuitive insight suddenly provides convenient solution to problems. . Your creativity flows freely. In this state of inner harmony and deep fulfillment, you experience a sense of greater connectedness—to other people, to a larger whole, perhaps to God, or to a higher aspect of yourself. (From Gratitude as a Way of Life: Insights from the Science of Well-Being, Emmons, 2005)

Heading into the challenges of the holiday season, let’s remember to give ourselves a “gratitude intervention.” Positive results were observed with subjects who only journaled once a day, but here’s the perspective of GK Chesterton-

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play. . . and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, and swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in ink.”

Brain Optimization

Americans are living longer than ever before. The bad news is that studies show that 50% of those reaching the age of 85 will have dementia. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to preserve your brain and to keep it active and sharp.

Anxiety-Memory Loss-Sadness-Insomnia-Lack of Energy-Mood Swings-Distractibility

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The Dark Night and Clinical Depression

There is an interesting article on Beliefnet’s blog, Beyond Blue: A spiritual journey to mental health, in which Terese J. Borchard attempts to draw a line between the experience of loss and spiritual dryness which John of the Cross described as the Dark Night of the Soul and clinical depression.

This is difficult in many ways, especially given that, as Borchard notes, one can experience both at the same time. Her argument amounts to the fact that a religious person in the dark night is well aware of the trial that they are undergoing and may even be invigorated by the spiritual trial, while someone who is depressed simply seems depressed.

However that may be, even a casual reading of The Dark Night of the Soul, reveals an almost unending list of sufferings–physical, emotional, and spiritual–that seem a lot like depression, and, in terms of the symptoms, are indistinguishable.

My argument would be that Saint John’s path is a way of using deep depression to find God and to refine one’s spirituality. Any depression has the potential to become a Dark Night of the Soul if and when a person ceases to run from depression and accepts it as revealing a truth about the emptiness of self and the difference between the self and God.

From a psychoanalytic point of view, the best work on this is Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun, a work which links and compares mysticism and depression.

Like Borchard and Kristeva, I do believe that medication can be invaluable for the treatment of depression. I simply also would argue that depression can teach us deep truths about the universe.