On Being Grateful

Some of you might read this and wonder how a post on gratefulness really ties in with health and nutrition. Well, trust me. It does.

Exhibiting gratefulness isn’t something that has come naturally to me. It wasn’t that I was ungrateful – quite the contrary! But, showing someone my appreciation for their generosity, no matter how small, isn’t a natural-born quality. For years I had post-it notes around my house with phrases like “Attitude of Gratitude” and “Be Grateful for Today in All Things.” (Yes, that included being stuck in traffic.) They were on my door, on my dresser, on my vanity mirror in the bathroom, above the sink in the kitchen, in my car visor – the list went on and on! I knew this was a handicap to life and that it needed to change.

You see – in order to be happy. To be truly 100% joyfully happy, one must be grateful. Brother David Steindl-Rast really took me to task with his Ted Talk on Happiness and Gratitude. (It’s worth the listen!)

An easy way to foster this Attitude of Gratitude, aside from Post-Its all over the house, is to pause and pray or give thanks before a meal. I have always prayed before meals – in thanksgiving for the food before me, for those that grew and raised it, for the hands that prepared it and for the blessing of simply having it. In fact, some of you might recognize the classic that I grew up with:

Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts; which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

When you pray or express gratitude before a meal and really take the time to meditate on it, the parasympathetic nervous system, what allows us to rest and digest, takes over. Our heart rate slows, intestinal and gland activity increases, and our body prepares for a nice and leisurely meal with good digestion. As you’re praying, the brain is picking up on the smell and sight, is wetting the salivary glands, and is triggering all kinds of organ reactions.

In a world where many of us put off eating until we’re hangry and, once food is in front of us, ravenously attack like starving hyenas on the Serengeti, pausing to give thanks really might take a Post-It note reminder. It’s something that we’ve blocked out of our daily lives.

So the next time you sit down to a meal, take a minute and be grateful for the food you are about to consume – for the hands that prepared it. Those who grew or raised it, the animal that gave up its life for your sustenance, and for the many gifts you have been given. Try not to rush through the time, allowing your body to relax, and allow yourself to enjoy the company of your family and friends. Whatever needs to happen after can happen after. For now, you’re present, around a table, and sharing in a meal. You’ll not only improve your digestion, but you’ll find it’s an easy way to foster an attitude of gratitude that carries over into other aspects of life – and that will have an overall positive affect on your health.