For this blog— on the topic of gratitude— I’m returning to the same source that inspired my previous post called, “Every day is Earth Day.” The source is the book “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist, professor, writer and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in New York.
For the past few decades, researchers have been studying the effects of gratitude on our mental health. In their book, The Psychology of Gratitude,” Emmons and McCullough have concluded “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible, is one of the most neglected emotions and the most underestimated of the virtues.”
According to Harvard Health publishing, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
The problem with ordinary notions of gratitude is that often gratitude is all about us. If things are going our way, we feel grateful, and if they’re not, we struggle to find something we genuinely feel appreciation for, apart from our families. During a year of quarantine, we might feel gratitude that we had escaped the virus, but not that we had also missed our friends, dining out, entertainment, and travel.
Kimmerer writes of a different approach to gratitude observed on the ancestral homelands of the Onandaga Nation in New York, now the home of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. This gratitude is expressed as a Thanksgiving Address by members who were instructed by their ancestors to “stand and offer these words wherever they were gathered.”
Speakers, who in the book were schoolchildren, take turns presenting a portion of the address, each of which ends with, “Now our minds are one.”
The address begins with, “Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We each have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with all living things.”
The next recitation gives thanks for Mother Earth, and the ones that follow for all the waters of the world; fish life; plant life; food plants; medicine herbs; trees; animal life; birds; the four winds; thunder, lightening, and the sun; the moon and the stars; enlightened teachers, and the Creator.
When taken together, the recitations of the Address are long. They are not a prayer, but “greetings to all who sustain us.”
Even if I feel no gratitude for the events of a particular day, expressing appreciation for what sustains my life, comes easily.