Research has shown some interesting health benefits enjoyed by people who practice gratitude.
Apparently if just before going to bed I recall three of the most beautiful moments of the day and savour and give thanks for them then I will sleep better and more deeply. Practising gratitude has also been shown to lessen feelings of stress, anxiety, despair and depression; and to lead to feelings of joy, love, satisfaction with life, and to improved mental health. It is said to give energy and increase motivation; it helps us achieve our objectives; it gives meaning to life and confidence in the future and an enhanced love of self. Improved relationships and better communication also occur. Gratitude can help couples get on better and stay together longer. And in the workplace it contributes to a better atmosphere, it nourishes the links between people, and it augments the motivation and efficiency of the team. It helps one make friends, feel more included, and to be more appreciated by others.
There are financial benefits too, with daily practice of meditation being said to lessen the need for compulsive spending or eating with which we may try to fill an inner emptiness. I was especially surprised to hear that gratitude can even slow down the ageing process, and this was demonstrated by a study of a community of nuns in Minnesota. The nuns each wrote a letter when they entered the convent and further letters at the ages of 40 and 70. The letters were later examined with reference to vocabulary related to gratitude and it was found that those who had lived in a spirit of gratitude lived on average seven years longer than those who did not.
Gratitude has been shown to lead to altruistic behaviour. In a restaurant in Philadelphia in 2009 two customers went to the till to pay and were told that someone had already paid their bill. They responded by paying the bill of the next customers. This continues for five hours, with each customer paying the bill of the following customer, and giving generous tips besides. Kindness begets kindness.
And a remarkable thing happened in Los Angeles in 1995. I know because I was there, together with Yim Soon and our then 8-month old son Kieran. We’d been at an event in Portland, Oregon during which I’d had my guitar stolen. We’d gone to LA to spend three days with a friend of Yim Soon but she’d lost the address. So there we were in this huge city with our luggage, a young child and an empty guitar case; and with nowhere to stay and not much money left. We managed to make contact with a Korean priest we’d known in Canterbury. He had us picked up by two Korean nuns who took us to their convent in the Koreatown and fed us and gave us a lovely room for the night. For the next two days and nights we were hosted by members of the Korean Catholic community. One of those we met, after enquiring as to how I came to have an empty guitar case, said to me “I want you to have my guitar”. The guitar I was given that day is no ordinary guitar: it’s a special round-backed ovation. And it’s no ordinary ovation either: it has an ornate design and a lovely, resonant tone. Ironically, or rather fittingly, the personal theme for me on that event in Portland had been gratitude.
That guitar has served me well over the last 24 years, and I’ve always felt relatively relaxed about sharing it with others. It was a particular joy for me to bring the guitar into Wormwood Scrubs prison to sing Irish songs to a group of Travellers, one of whom jumped up and said he used to be a sessions musician and could be play my guitar. I immediately handed it over (I got it back again later!). That guitar was given to me as a gift, and gifts are to be shared.
And so whether or not we want to live seven years longer, or simply get a better night’s sleep, all we need to do is say Thank you!