Following is the latest Wednesday Wisdom article from the Family Assistance Foundation, reminding you that a fully integrated approach for assisting survivors of traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D., and distributed by the Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., www.fafonline.org. Reprint is available with written permission from the Foundation.
Thanksgiving as an Action Resulting from Feelings of Gratitude
Twenty-seven years ago this month (Sept) our 35-year-old son, Chad, died in the crash of USAIR Flight 427 just outside Pittsburgh. Losing a child is a life shattering experience, but guess what? it’s survivable. Because of people and organizations like Dr. Coarsey, Jeff Morgan and FAERF (The Family Assistance Education and Research Foundation.)
In the midst of the agony and sorrow of Chad’s death, I found peace and purpose in being a part of this amazing organization. Working with FAF and the many care teams has blessed my life. It has given me a platform to make Chad’s death have a positive impact on many care teams, plus as a side-effect, it has made me a stronger more resilient person.
-Merrilee Morris (quoted from video clip submitted to our 2021 Member/Partner Meeting)
This month’s Wednesday Wisdom follows on the heels of Thanksgiving celebration throughout the United States. American Thanksgiving, not to be confused with Canadian Thanksgiving and holidays bearing similar names in other parts of the world, was founded as a religious observance for members of a community to give thanks to God for food and overall feelings of gratitude.
There is much controversy over exactly when and where the holiday began in the US as well as who held the first feast. What is agreed upon now, however, is that American Thanksgiving today is celebrated on the the fourth Thursday in November, and the occasion is marked by gathering of family and friends who share food, watch American football or other sporting events, and the start of holiday shopping the following day--Friday. Another common theme for this holiday involves expressing thankfulness for what and whom, we have in our lives.
My own list of what I am thankful for starts with naming amazing survivors like Merrilee whose quote causes me to feel a great sense of humility. At the Foundation we are grateful to innumerable survivors who have helped us in our goal of raising compassion consciousness in business and industry by sharing their stories, i.e., details of their lives with us. We are also grateful to the many organizations whose employees we have collaborated with over our thirty plus years of service, who made it possible for these stories to be shared and the lessons learned put into action.
I am also grateful to organizations who share research and education with the entire world on how we can improve our lives and build better relationships, both personally and professionally. In the following paragraphs I will introduce you to the Greater Good Science Center. By sharing some of their concepts, I hope you will be encouraged to seek more wisdom from their website
Thankfulness/Appreciation and Gratitude
Gratitude recognizes how the positive things in our lives—like success at work—are often due to forces outside of ourselves, particularly the efforts of other people.
-The Gratitude Project: How the science of thankfulness can rewire our brains for resilience, optimism, and the greater good. Jeremy A. Smith, Kira A. Newman, Jason Marsh, Dacher Keltner
The absence of friends and family for Thanksgiving last year (2020) and for many, this year (2021), makes being together anywhere, regardless of the size even more special and sparks feelings of deep gratitude. Within the growing field of Positive Psychology, the term gratitude commands center stage—for good reason. The multi-year collaboration between the Greater Good Science Center and Psychologist Robert Emmons, University of California, Davis referred to as The Gratitude Project, is yielding fascinating information for all who have an interest in mental well-being.
The Gratitude Project explores gratitude’s deep roots in human psychology—how it evolved and how it affects our brain—as well as the transformative impact it has on creating a meaningful life and a better world. Researchers define gratitude as the act of acknowledging the goodness in life. Gratitude recognizes how the positive things in our lives—like success at work—are often due to forces outside of ourselves, particularly the efforts of other people.
Gratitude allows us to participate more fully in life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness.
-Jeremy A. Smith, et.al.
The good feelings associated with appreciation and thankfulness can be fleeting, but gratitude is a far more complex emotion and studies are showing that gratitude contributes powerfully to human health, happiness, and social connection. It strengthens relationships because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people. Unlike other fleeting emotions, gratitude causes us to appreciate the value of something. We are less likely to take something for granted when we appreciate its value. Gratitude allows us to participate more fully in life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness.
Once you start to recognize the contributions that other people have made in your life, and seen the value in you, it will transform the way you see yourself.
-Jeremy A. Smith, et.al.
A second part of the definition of gratitude pertains to recognizing the goodness as being outside of ourselves. True gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: we acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you are a spiritual mind-set—have given us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives. Once you start to recognize the contributions that other people have made in your life, and seen the value in you, it will transform the way you see yourself.
Use ritual to enhance connections and emotions, in the absence of Thanksgiving traditions.
For those whose family gatherings are smaller, or due to the pandemic, not possible, we can still create meaningful experiences over Zoom and similar technologies. Of all the suggestions, the one that stands out the most to me considering what we are currently learning about the power of gratitude, pertains to expressing gratitude for each other along with expressing favorite family Thanksgiving memories.
If family gatherings are limited in size and travel restrictions, it may also be helpful to look for ways to help the community, by delivering canned items and other goods that meet the safety requirements but still allow you and your immediate family to experience the joy of helping others--together. There are also national websites that suggest ways of volunteering to help one’s community. The point is to find ways to experience togetherness in doing good for others, especially during times that have traditionally been associated with family and friends. For more ideas and suggestions visit the greater good website and look for How Do We Celebrate Thanksgiving in a Pandemic? (ggsc.berekely.edu)
More and more, research is suggesting that happiness should not be an afterthought for workplaces; it should be an essential goal, entwined with the kinds of 21st century skills that are key to individual and organizational stress today.
-The Science of Happiness at Work (greatergood.berkely.edu)
Leaders of any organization can find unlimited free resources, articles and ideas for putting the science of gratitude into their workplace as well as personal lives by visiting the online magazine, Greater Good(https://greatergood.berkeley.edu), which covers “the science of a meaningful life,” and Greater Good in Action (http://ggia.berkeley.edu) a free website that collects the best research-based methods for a happier life.
Of particular interest may be an online course offering research-based strategies for more satisfaction, connection and purpose at work. Continuing education credits are available for health professionals and HR managers.
In closing, at the Foundation, we want to again offer our deepest feelings of gratitude to all of you who join with us in helping to create a more compassionate world. As Mahatma Gandhi’s well-known quote states: “We have to be the change we want to see in the world.”