By LaReeca Rucker
This article originally appeared in The Clarion-Ledger circa 2011.
Jackson resident Andi Barbrey watched a celebrity she follows on Facebook write about what she was thankful for daily, and Barbrey decided to do the same.
“One day, I thanked my dad for always staying calm even though he raised three girls,” she said. “Last night, I had a rough day at work, and I said I was thankful for beer,” she laughed. “But I try to be thankful for things that have made a difference in my life. Doing the updates really makes you think about it every day.”
Gratitude has attracted a lot of attention from psychological researchers in recent years in the field of “positive psychology.” It examines topics like quality of life, virtues, character and happiness, said Stephen Southern, professor and chairman of the Mississippi College Department of Psychology and Counseling.
Southern said gratitude has been shown in studies to reduce stress while improving health, physically, mentally and emotionally.
“Gratitude is a key ingredient in quality of life,” Southern said. “When we focus on small blessings and accomplishments, we are better able to tackle the challenges ahead. I recommend that individuals take stock of their many blessings … Whenever possible, tell the other person in person, writing or social media how much you appreciate what was said or done that enriches your life. Return the favor by giving or doing something for another in need.”
Southern encourages others to thank God in prayer and praise for blessings and hardships, which are opportunities for learning and growth.
“Frustration and anger have their place, but try to find one blessing to acknowledge before you go to sleep at night,” he said. “It may help to write an ongoing letter to God to share the many experiences associated with growth and opportunity. Share your letter with a trusted person you admire.”
“Remember that person in prayer for at least two weeks,” he said. “Then, see how you feel.”
Tom Carskadon, a Mississippi State University professor of psychology, who edits the Journal of Psychological Type and studies personality types, said “gratitude begets happiness, and happiness begets gratitude.”
“No matter who we are, we have a certain station in life,” he said. “From that station, we can look either up or down. If we look up at those who have more than we do, we experience what is called ‘relative deprivation.’ We feel frustrated, unhappy, angry – like the professional ballplayer who makes $5 million a year, but is outraged when a rival player makes $8 million. Or, we can count our blessings, and appreciate what we do have.
“If we are fed, clothed, reasonably well and reasonably safe, with a stable roof over our heads, we are ahead of several billion people on this planet. And if we have friends and faith and family, we are better off than that many more.”
Carskadon said our station in life is the same either way; but our happiness depends on how we look at it.
“Gratitude is powerfully related to happiness, and thanksgiving is best celebrated daily,” he said.
Dr. Catherine Mincy, who owns a dental practice in Booneville, also recently began posting a thankful thread on an internet sports message board – a tight community of Auburn fans who have corresponded for more than a decade.
“Over the last couple of months, we’ve had long-term members, as well as some newcomers facing terrible events in their lives,” she said.
“One member has a wife dying of cancer with no hope of recovery. Another member, himself an oncologist who survived cancer before going to med school, has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer which has a pretty bleak prognosis. Another gentleman, who has been posting on that board almost from the beginning and whose children are regular posters, died at the age of 84.
“As we moved into November, we were all feeling a little bleak … So I took this idea to the Auburn Board and suggested that, in the midst of despair, fear and grief, we all need to remember those things for which we are thankful.
“Sometimes, the act of writing it down – making ourselves think about the good that is around us, can help us power through all the bad in our immediate future.”
Mincy said each day she posts something she is thankful for.
“Interestingly, it’s some of the people who have big problems like cancer in their lives who are quickest to respond,” she said.
She’s thankful for serving in the military, her church and pastor, friends, hot coffee, donuts with sprinkles, books, living in the South, tennis in the middle of November, cheese grits, the U.S., the right to vote and her siblings.
“It’s so easy for us to get caught up in the little things that wear us down,” she said. ” . . . a dead car battery, a child who forgot their lunch box, someone running the red light in front of us, another committee meeting that we don’t really want to attend.
“I think that by focusing our attention on the small things we have to be thankful for, it helps us see … that we have a job to drive to, we have a healthy child who isn’t starving. We can gripe about the person who ran the red light from the safety of our car rather than the roadside as we wait for an ambulance to arrive, and we are able to be productive members of our community.
“So I guess this is my attempt to focus my attention on looking for the little treasures God puts out there for us each day and appreciating them. I hope that I can continue looking for something to be thankful for each day long after Nov. 30.”