This week’s post is about gratitude. Why bother including this in your ethical will? Here are several good reasons:
- research indicates feelings of gratitude may be beneficial to our emotional well-being (Emmons & McCullough, 2003)
- expressing gratitude to another provides a moment of grace and joy for that person.
- academic studies indicate that grateful people are on the whole less materialistic than the general population and tend to suffer less anxiety about status or accumulating possessions.
Preparing your ethical will is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what you’ve been given by others. And examining in detail all that you’ve been given generates a natural feeling of gratitude. So, let’s begin work on this week’s ethical will exercise.
Exercise: Take your ethical will notebook and turn to the next available blank page. At the top write the heading “Gratitude.” The notes you write here will eventually become part of your final ethical will draft.
Now write the following sentence. “What I have received from… (insert the name of the person to whom you’re writing your ethical will)..is….”
Here’s an example. Writing of my mother I said, “What I have received from my mom is her unconditional love, her support and encouragement when I needed it, the importance of politeness, consideration and grace and the value of loyalty.”
What are the things that you’ve received? When you’ve compiled your notes take time to go back and for each item expand upon it so that it’s phrased as an expression of gratitude. Keep in mind that when you write about gratitude it’s best if you explain a specific incident that illustrates why you’re grateful.
Example. Continuing with my mom I wrote, “I’m ever grateful for your support and encouragement when I’ve needed it. When I was beginning my career as a documentary filmmaker many years ago, you were not only one of my early “fans” but you came to my financial rescue on several occasions. Without your support I know I may never have succeeded.”
The idea is to provide substance and detail to your expressions of gratitude. Don’t just say, “I’m grateful for your love.” Rather, say something like,”I’m grateful for your love. I know that there are days when I’m too exhausted from work to feel much like talking. You’ve always been sensitive to that and given me the space I need. Thank you for that. It has meant so much.”
You may want to continue your exploration of gratitude and discover the benefits that can accrue to you. One suggestion is to keep a “Gratitude Journal.” At the end of each day write down at least five things you’re grateful for that day. I find it’s also useful to add a reason after each thing you’re grateful for. For example, “I’m grateful for the comfortable bed I sleep on because so many are homeless and sleep on the street.” And here’s an important point. The things you’re grateful for don’t have to be “earth shattering.” They can be simple things that make your life worthwhile….like a comfortable bed.
Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, is one of the foremost authorities on the topic of gratitude in North America. He has said,
... it’s important to stress that gratitude is really a choice. It doesn’t depend upon circumstances or genetic wiring or something that we don’t have control over. It really becomes an attitude that we can choose that makes life better for ourselves and for other people… When things go well gratitude enables us to savor things going well. When things go poorly gratitude enables us to get over those situations and to realize they are temporary.
You might find these two books by Emmons useful additions to your library, Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier and Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul
Next week watch for Ethical Wills 101: Part Four ~ Life Lessons Learned.