Part of me thinks talking about warm fuzzy gratitude as a constituent of health is trite and treacly. Standard fare in human interest news stories this time of year is thanks to the troops serving overseas, in war and out. The other theme is to present stories about homeless’ soup kitchens and Thanksgiving dinners for the poor, in counterpoint to those of us gorging on a Turkey Day meal, in preparation for a spending spree that starts the next day, Black Friday.
Are the soldiers’ sacrifices and relative wealth things that warrant our gratitude? Absolutely! Many Americans are really in the category of “haves”: good health, functional families and loving relationships, good housing and adequate incomes. Taking time on Thanksgiving and every other day for meditation on these blessings is surely a balm for otherwise frazzled souls. The Spanish translation for Thanksgiving is sometimes El dia de acciones de gracias – day of thankful actions. With little basis in health science, I believe the combination of grateful thinking and motivated actions has benefits for mental and physical health.
My reservations about this stem from two points. First, gratitude in most people comes in fits and starts. There is a dose response of thankfulness: it seems that many of us are stuck in MORE, with occasional glances at ENOUGH. With this reality, the occasional moments of grace, such as happen on Thanksgiving are welcome, but only go so far.
The other concern is the distribution of the sources of gratitude. We are encouraged by religious leaders that thankfulness is a state of mind, not a reflection of our circumstances. A lofty sentiment, but much easier for those with most favored social stations. The easy platitudes about being thankful may be a defense mechanism with which we dismiss the raw injustice in our communities.
I’ve not heard anyone describe the epidemiology of blessings, but because there are winners and losers in the lottery of life, some people hare sicker and die younger. While we luxuriate in the health promotion of quiet gratitude, our challenge is to change the social factors determining that so many have so few blessings.