By Jaron Zanerhaft
Throughout my first Shabbos services at Beit T’Shuvah, a single quote wriggled around inside my head like an insipid pop lyric:
“Gratitude is the disease of dogs.”
I was resigned to contempt, bitter without cause, and suspicious of anyone who told me that I couldn’t figure something out myself. The decency and efforts of those around me at Beit T’Shuvah, however, wore down my resistance and showed me that whether or not I choose to be grateful to them, I wouldn’t last long denying the abundance of blessings in my life.
So how do you stay grateful? Studies confirm that gratitude in its emotional form depends on three things: the value of the help to the recipient, the cost to the benefactor, and the benevolence of the intention. Basically, you are most grateful when someone does something really important for you that was tough for them, and they did it for the right reasons. Simple actions such as recognizing the use of your senses and saying “thank you” can boost awareness of cause and effect in your life.
While gratitude is an emotion of the moment, a feeling of thanks felt in a specific situation, the frequency with which one can feel gratitude points to something more continuous than fleeting grace. In many 12-step programs, participants are encouraged to shed light on their character defects— inherent traits which contributed to their downfall. Then, we cultivate strengths. When considering positive traits which could aid in the development of an upstanding character, don’t overlook the impact of gratitude. Gratitude can be a trait, a characteristic incorporable into personalities. A person of gratitude is more prone to feel grateful in any given circumstance and therefore more prone to happiness and success. Instead of being just a person who feels gratitude, you can be a person of gratitude. The results of studies focusing on long-term gratitude suggest that taking actions such as keeping a gratitude journal and praying can lead to a greater degree of achievement towards personal goals, better physical health, and a stronger feeling of connection to others.
I have certainly come a long way since Stalin’s words echoed in my head. I can now identify gratitude as an essential component of my being. Though sometimes a struggle, I find moments to be thankful. Friday nights after cleaning up from services, I hold a small group where we pass around a candle and share what we are appreciative of from the past week. In these groups I’m fond of mentioning that, when a valuable object or investment appreciates, by definition, it increases in value. So, too, as we appreciate, our lives become more valuable to ourselves. Be grateful for what you have, and turn it into more than you could have ever dreamed.