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Gratitude is Good for You

Feeling grateful is the new panacea. Research has shown that cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” is linked to better health, sounder sleep, higher long-term satisfaction with life and increased altruism toward others. Naturally, there is merchandise to assist: Google "gratitude journal," for instance, and get back 1,830,000 hits in 0.09 seconds. Everybody with a blog, book, podcast and product to sell, is touting the efficacy of building gratitude into daily routines as though it were a new idea, the very latest in science.

Well, cultivating gratitude isn't that new. The importance of arranging perspective towards counting blessings instead of woes has been around as long as people have recorded their thoughts for later generations. Gratitude is built into every religious and most philosophical constructs, not to mention Boy Scouts, mental health regimens and Olympic training camps. Seers and prophets and oracles and soothsayers, fakirs and gurus, life coaches and grandmothers, have all advised that life is made better by looking for something for which to be grateful every day.

To be grateful is a big part of religion. Else, why is it that believers are asked to pray? Is it because God, whom the religious generally believe to be omnipotent, needs the strokes? Or could it be an efficacious way to orient oneself to the positive? In order to have a list of things to thank God for, I know it requires me to think about what's happened in a more positive light than I might otherwise--complaining being one of my better developed attributes...

Yet, learning how to pray can be as much of a challenge as finding ways to be grateful! Bahá'ís are particularly blessed to have hundreds of examples of the most useful words and attitudes from Bahá'u'lláh's own writings, from His forerunner The Báb, and from His son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá. I use these to help settle down and get into the most receptive frame of mind before launching into whatever conversation I need to have with my Maker. Sometimes, by the time I have recited a few of the revealed prayers, I no longer feel the need for anything but thanks, because I'm already calmed and strengthened.

Bahá'ís are followers of Bahá'u'lláh, Whom they believe is the Messenger of God for this day and time. Because they accept His teaching that God has never abandoned Creation, they accept all the Messengers of the past, as well. Bahá'u'lláh reiterated the basic spiritual core that runs through all these seemingly disparate religions, and defined God as essentially unknowable and unapproachable except through these Messengers.

So, if having a two-way direct conversation with God is not possible, what is the purpose of prayer or gratitude--especially, if such an omnipotent Being already knows what is in our hearts? In my case, it is important because often I don't know what is in my heart! Prayer builds a bond, deepens my love and strengthens my will to serve. It also calms the fussing that I am so good at.

Of course, the most important Bahá'í prayer is the example of one's daily life. Anything done in the spirit of service is equated to worship: "...all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 176

Every thought, word or deed which is devoted to the welfare of one's fellow man is prayer in the truest sense of the word. But for me to find that groove--let alone stay in it very long--requires some attitude adjustment! Making the effort to find things for which I can be grateful helps a lot, because, how can I love God if I'm mad about this or that thing which isn't going my way? (This goes for relationships with family, friends and neighbors, too.)

I have used journaling, and gratitude journals are a popular way to focus on the positive. Try it, or something like it, morning and evening. See if your life changes. Dr. Emmons--a gratitude researcher at UC Davis (California)--advises that to sleep better, count blessings instead of sheep...

"If we are not happy and joyous at this season, for what other season shall we wait and for what other time shall we look?" - Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, vol 3, p. 641

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