PURIM Unmasked

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By: Mozelle Forman, Lcsw

The grandmothers (of which I am one) of the students of Bnot Yisraelrecently received a request from the principal: please write a letter to your granddaughters describing what you believe is an important midahfor them to cultivate. I knew immediately that I would write about gratitude, as it is a fundamental value in Judaism.

Being grateful is the first act we perform everyday – we rise and say modah ani–thanking Hashem for yet another day to perform mitzvot. We thank Hashem for creating a wondrous body when we say Asher Yatzar. Before we eat we praise Hashem, and after we eat we thank Hashem yet again.

In our gratitude, we acknowledge Hashem as theGiver of all good. And while this gratitude towards Hashem is the ultimate gratitude, it is sometimes harder to express our thanks to the people around us. We forget that the graciousness of others is not our right, but is rather a function of their kindness to us.

How Gratitude Works

As I wrote that letter extolling the virtues of a grateful life, I realized that gratitude always requires an “other” – person or being – and is therefore an integral element of every relationship we have. Robert Emmons, PhD, who is described as “the leading scientific expert on gratitude” asserts, “Gratitude is a relationship-strengthening emotion, an acknowledgment that we have received something of value from others. It arises from a posture of openness to others, where weare able to gladly recognize their benevolence.”

Gratitude has two elements – the recognition of the kindness and the acknowledgment of a kindness. Both are necessary to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Recognizing that a kindness has been performed on our behalf means being able to see that we have received a gift, and not a right. Acknowledging this idea is carried out when we convey our gratitude to the giver of that kindness. Some of us are better at this than others. We may not recognize a kindness because our expectations preclude seeing the kindness. We think of receiving kindness as our right, or we have come to expect is as a given, and therefore it no longer seems worthy of acknowledgement. At times, even when we recognize a kindness has been done for us, we never get around to acknowledging it.

Grateful Life, Happy Life

Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Wantsays: “When you realize how much people have done for you or how much you have accomplished, you feel more confident and efficacious. A grateful person is a more positive person, and positive people are better liked by others.” Gratitude strengthens existing relationships and nurtures new ones. It is a relationship boosting behavior.

And, no – things do not have to be perfect in order for you to be grateful. Grateful people are not that way simply because their life is better than others. Levels of gratitude are more dependent on personality and life perspective than on one’s life situation. Although it may be challenging to celebrate your blessings at moments when they seem least apparent to you, it may be the most important thing that you can do.

My granddaughters called me excitedly last week to say, “Savta, you’re famous! We had an assembly and we had to go on stage and the principal read your letter.” “So, what did you think of the letter, girls?” I asked. “It was good Savta… thank you!”

Strengthening Suggestions

Keep a Gratitude Journal– A five minute a day gratitudejournal can increase your long-term
well-being by more than 10 percent. That gives you
the same impact as doubling your income!

Count Your Blessings – Thinking about a few things we have to be grateful for (instead of what we are worried about) before falling asleep induces the relaxation response, which improves the quality of our sleep. In a study of 400 healthy people, those participants who had higher scores on a gratitude test also reported falling to sleep more quickly, improved sleep quality, increased sleep duration, and less difficulty staying awake during the day.

Appreciate – Make a commitment to verbalize your appreciation to your spouse for something they have done to make you feel cared for – every day. This works with children too!

Watch Your Language– Grateful people have a particular linguistic style that incorporates into their vocabulary the language of gifts, givers, blessings, blessed, fortune, fortunate, and abundance.

Go Through the Motions– Showing gratitude includes smiling, saying thank you, and writing letters
of gratitude, which will trigger the emotion of gratitude.

Mozelle Forman has been in private practice for 20 years.
Visit her at mozelleforman.com