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Judaism and Gratitude

Research on the practice of gratitude has been booming in recent years. Organizations and movements such as the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California – Berkeley, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, and The Network for Grateful Living are working hard to do the research and encourage change in how we live from day to day.

Their findings are showing that a simple expression of gratitude on a daily basis makes one happier and healthier. Ron Gutman, Founder and CEO of Health Tap, gave a TED Talk where he shared research about smiling and its impact on your overall well-being as well as how smiling can help predict the length of years in your life.

Many of us carelessly neglect the experience of daily gratitude, instead taking the blessings in our life for granted. It is often an unfortunate tragedy that propels one to live a life of experiencing gratitude from moment to moment and of being conscious and thankful for that which one has.

The study of Mussar (Jewish character development) exemplifies the importance of gratitude in daily Jewish life. Our task, according to our faith, is to recognize the good in what we have. Gratitude, known as Hakarat Hatov, is a practice and something we need to continuously work on.

Here are some simple ways to bring gratitude into your daily life:

Gratitude journals are so simple and easy but are powerfully transformative. Get the whole family involved in a gratitude journal at dinnertime or write in your individual journal before you go to bed each night. Record one thing (or more) that you are thankful for.

Reciting a bracha (a blessing) is a pause of gratitude we take before eating, when we wake up in the morning, or before going to sleep at night. Modeh Ani, the first words we recite upon waking in the morning, is an utterance of thanks for another day of life.

Whether we give our money, our time, or both – the act of tzedakah is another method for increasing gratitude for life’s gifts. The act of helping others is mutually beneficial for the recipient and the giver.

Practice recognizing the good. Life lessons often show themselves to us after we have moved through a crisis. It is only then that we can see that something that caused us great pain actually had a positive impact on our life.

Count your blessings. An extension of the gratitude journal, make it a practice to recognize your blessings throughout the day. Be grateful for the sunlight streaming in your window, or that the line for coffee was short, or for the random person who smiled at you.

There is a story frequently told of a farmer whose horse ran away and the neighbors all cried, “What bad luck!” The farmer replied, “It may be bad luck or it may be good luck. I do not know.”

The following day, the horse returned and brought a herd of wild horses with him. The same neighbors exclaimed, “What good fortune! Now you have a stable filled with horses.” The farmer shared the same reply as the day before: “It may be a good thing or maybe it’s not.”

Several days later, the farmer’s son was out in the field when one of the horses through him off breaking his leg. The neighbors moaned: “What bad luck has come your way.” And, the farmer, of course, replied: “It may be bad luck or it may be good luck. I cannot say.”

When the government declared war, there was a draft of all the young men in town. The farmer’s son was excluded from the draft because of his broken leg and avoided going to war. The farmer said to his neighbors: “Now I see that losing my horse was a good thing.”

Gratitude is something that can be cultivated. The research shows us that it is an important task to add to our to-do list and that the benefits can impact our well-being, our longevity, and our ultimate happiness. If you want to learn to view the glass as half full, you most certainly can!

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