I am steering the van towards after-school destination numero deux, in project "My Life as a Chauffer." A tired Kindergartener rides solo in the backseat, a motley assortment of grocery bags, backpacks and other odds and ends ride shotgun in the passenger side. And all the while, "Veggie Tales" blares in the background. One male, royal-ish character says to his less noble sidekick, "Do you think she'll like me?" To which comes the response, "She has to like you...under order of banishment or imprisonment."
I wish I could jump into the script and wring that little gourd's rubbery neck. But I resist. Because in a world of cartoon characters, it is that easy. To draw the lines, shade in the edges and round-out the scene. If you want it to happen, it will happen. Just enter it in the script. If you want a happy ending, wave the magic wand. Done. If you want someone to like you, threaten banishment. If you don't like the way life's going, re-write your story.
If only real life were so easy.
And when actual life of the "here-and-now" variety is factored into the equation. And the show is over and real life begins. That's when the truest test of character is evidenced. When the chips are down, and everything is laid bare to the raw bones. That is when we see what stuff we're really made of.
When we discover that joy can be found even in weariness.
But that takes time. And time does damage sometimes before it can work its way back to good.
It's the gradual wearing away, the erosion of patience and understanding and empathy that really cuts us to the heart and soul of the matter. The endless trips we make back and forth, from home to goodness knows where else. It's the lack of time for meaningful conversations. The sleepless nights. The gray hair. It's the little things that wear us down and make it so hard to be thankful.
To be grateful.
Living life with gratitude sometimes means one must offer thanks at the most un-opportune moments. Uttering words of gratitude even for those things in life which one is not always fully enjoying, passionately loving, deriving pleasure or benefiting greatly from nor receiving back a large measure of happiness.
Sometimes we give thanks for the smallest of things. And in that one item of thankfulness, it can often more than balance the scales in the long run. Life lived in gratitude is the truest measure of joy.
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Grateful teens are happier, according to a study presented at one of the annual meetings of the American Psychological Association. Researchers also found that teens who are grateful -- defined in this study as having a positive outlook on life -- are more well-behaved at school and more hopeful than their less-grateful peers. They also got better grades, had less envy and more friends due to their optimism. "More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world," said study researcher Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., a psychology professor at California State University.
Being constantly mindful of all the things you have to be thankful for can boost your well-being, research suggests. In a series of experiments detailed in a 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, daily exercise practices and listing off all the things you are thankful for are linked with a brighter outlook on life and a greater sense of positivity. "There do appear to exist benefits to regularly focusing on one's blessings," the researchers wrote in the study. "The advantages are most pronounced when compared with a focus on hassles or complaints, yet are still apparent in comparison with simply reflecting the major events in one’s life, on ways in which one believes one is better off than comparison with others, or with a control group."
Grateful high-schoolers have higher GPAs -- as well as better social integration and satisfaction with life -- than their non-grateful counterparts, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of Happiness Studies. Researchers also found that grateful teens were less depressed and envious. This could be a factor in why the teens got better grades since they were less distracted and lived healthier lives. "When combined with previous research, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge about the benefits of gratitude in adolescents, and thus an important gap in the literature on gratitude and well-being is beginning to be filled," researchers wrote.
According to a 2003 study in the the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, gratitude could also boost pro-social behaviors, such as helping other people who have problems or lending emotional support to another person. This explains why religious services include reflection days and why so many self-help groups such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) use grateful thinking practices.
Writing down what you're thankful for as you drift off to sleep can quiet the mind and help you get better ZZs, according to a study in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Specifically, researchers found that when people spent 15 minutes jotting down what they're grateful for in a journal before bedtime, they fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer because they worried less, Psychology Today reported. Participants with neuromuscular disorders reported that they had more refreshing sleep in just 3 weeks.
Being thankful for the little things your partner does could make your relationship stronger, according to a study in the journal Personal Relationships. The Telegraph reported on the study, which showed that journaling about the thoughtful things your partner did was linked with a beneficial outcome on the relationship. The researchers found that gratitude for everyday kind gestures helps people become close to others who care about their well-being. They claim, "Gratitude may help to turn 'ordinary' moments into opportunities for relationship growth, even in the context of already close, communal relations.’'
A 1995 study in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that appreciation and positive emotions are linked with changes in heart rate variability. [This] may be beneficial in the treatment of hypertension and in reducing the likelihood of sudden death in patients with congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease.
Athletes are less likely to burn out and more likely to experience high life satisfaction and team satisfaction when they are grateful, according to a 2008 study in the journal Social Indicators Research of high-schoolers. Gratitude sharpens the senses, enhancing athletic performance according to Positive Performance Training.
Gratefulness is linked with optimism, which in turn is linked with better immune health, WebMD reported. For example, a University of Utah study showed that stressed-out law students who were optimistic had more white blood cells (which help boost your immune system) than people who were pessimistic, according to WebMD.
WebMD reported that negative events can boost gratitude, and that gratitude can help to increase feelings of belonging and decrease feelings of stress. Interestingly, adversity can enhance gratitude, helping people to feel more connected after a terrible event, such as 9/11. A survey showed that feelings of gratitude were at high levels after 9/11, according to WebMD.
Tonight. I am thankful for:
1. My ignorant bliss this morning as I slept in almost an hour past my alarm. My body needed that little bit extra.
2. Not losing my patience as I coped with having slept in way past what I should have done.
3. Nutri-grain bars. Great breakfast option on-the-run.
4. That domino game I forgot about. As I also forgot my math teacher's edition, it was a great pinch-hit for a harried teacher.
5. My colleague who offered me a domino worksheet last Thursday. Whoever would have dreamed it would've come in so handy.
6. Five-year old helpers. Who are almost already out the door even before I get my thoughts out of my head and into words.
7. A husband who packed my lunch today. And always.
8. Cell-phones that are not broken.
9. Schedules that allow windows of opportunity.
10. Supper meals without fighting.
And these, dear readers, are just a few of my favourite things. More than enough to be grateful for.
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