MANDY FLYNN: Being grateful has its rewards

FEATURES COLUMN: Reaction and growth from adversity is also something to be grateful for

Mandy Flynn

Mandy Flynn

“Be thankful for the bad things in life, for they open your eyes to the good things you weren’t paying attention to before.”

I had never heard this saying when I saw it in the store, etched in red on a long wooden board that was leaning on a shelf. Right next to it, spelled out in white on a round board of wood, was another one I didn’t know.

“If you don’t have all the things you want, be grateful for the things you don’t have that you wouldn’t want.”

For someone who loves quotes so much, I was surprised I didn’t know these two. But there they were, side by side, right in front of me. Funny. I’d never heard them said out loud, but I sure knew what they meant.

It’s easy to be thankful for the good things, but what about the not so great stuff that we go through? When I walked outside one morning not so terribly long ago to find a tire flat on my car, I was irritated. But an hour later when my son was driving me back home after taking it to the shop to get fixed, I realized how wonderful it was to have a few minutes alone with him just to talk.

That’s the sort of thing that quote is talking about, I think. Or maybe it’s more like thinking you’ve lost everything, your house, your savings, all of it, only to realize you’ve still got all that matters — your children, your health, your life. The bad things may be horrible, that’s true, but they make you appreciate everything else so much more.

Being grateful and giving thanks makes people happier. They’ve actually studied what showing gratitude does for people. It strengthens relationships, helps you stay healthy, reduces stress.

Psychologists Michael McCollough of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis, wrote of an experiment they conducted on gratitude and its impact on well-being. The study split several hundred people into three different groups and all of the participants were asked to keep daily diaries.

The first group kept a diary of the events that occurred during the day without being told specifically to write about either good or bad things; the second group was told to record their unpleasant experiences; and the last group was instructed to make a daily list of things for which they were grateful.

The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Those in the gratitude group also experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more regularly, and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals.

It’s so easy to be grateful for all the good things we have in our lives, but I think it’s also good to be grateful for the bad things. The bad things, themselves, aren’t necessarily what you’re grateful for — it’s what they create, force you to do, or make you see that can be good. And for many of those things, we should be grateful.

Perhaps the worst thing that has happened to me in my life thus far is losing my father when I was 20. I am not grateful that he died, and I never will be. But I am grateful that out of all of the devastation I became a stronger person. That bad thing shaped who I am, and who I became turned out to be the person my husband wanted to marry. And our getting married resulted in our two children. You know the story.

“If you don’t have all the things you want, be grateful for the things you don’t have that you wouldn’t want,” the second quote said.

“Mama won’t let me have pizza,” I overheard a little boy in the cafeteria tell his grandmother just the other day. “But at least she won’t make me eat collard greens.” And he had the biggest smile on his face. That’s the sort of thing that quote is talking about, I think.

Gratitude makes all the difference in an attitude. Especially when you’re talking about collard greens.

Email Mandy Flynn at flyn1862@bellsouth.net.