It’s the kind of book I usually shove aside: Janice Kaplan’s “The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life” (Dutton, $26.95). Probably the words “bright side” tipped the scales. Too hokey.
Then I thought of my friend who kept a gratitude diary last winter. Anytime she mentions that diary, she seems different – more relaxed, more serene.
She read me some of her entries. “The car started this morning,” she wrote one cold day. “No one I love has a major illness,” on another. “Found khakis for my husband,” yet another. And, “Warm enough to sit outside.” And, “Shopping with my grandson and shared lots of laughs.”
What did her diary accomplish? “It brightened my mood,” she said. “I felt better afterward.”
But the trick, she emphasized, is to note small things. Not huge things. She swears the outcome is as positive as if she’d spent time meditating.
So I turned again to the “Diaries.” Kaplan has excellent credentials, I noted. A New York Times bestselling author; former editor-in-chief of Parade Magazine.
I’m glad I gave it another go because it’s impressively researched and inspiring. It grew out of three things: A national survey on gratitude Kaplan oversaw for the John Templeton Foundation; her own experience keeping a gratitude diary; and interviews with others, including celebrities, psychologists and physicians.
Most intriguing to me is the relationship between gratitude and health. Last spring, I was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease rheumatoid arthritis in my hands and wrists. The attack followed on the heels of three big stress factors: a bout of bronchitis; a son’s hospitalization; a car wreck, leg and pelvic surgery for my then-13-year-old granddaughter (who’s completely recovered).
No physician I’ve seen will confirm that stress played a role in the onset of this disease. But Kaplan cites Dr. Sheldon Cohen’s study of stress and the common cold, and she concludes: “Gratitude lowers stress. Less stress means less inflammation. Less inflammation means you are not as susceptible to disease.”
Makes sense to me. Another practical application of gratitude is in marriage. Kaplan writes that showing gratitude to her husband has built such goodwill between them that arguments that used to take three weeks to resolve are now resolved in three minutes. Wow.
I’m starting a gratitude diary this week. My first entry: My 6-year-old grandson forgot how old he was and held my hand in public today.