What’s on your gratitude list?
The holidays lend themselves to list making. Add to the usual and perpetual tedium and toil of 60 hour work weeks, child care, fitting in a time to ride every now and then, eating and finding time for significant others. Now add the traditional seasonal obligations of parties, extended family and the omnipresent anxiety and gnawing guilt of not having yet purchased gifts and not knowing for whom you should be purchasing and you have a scenario where the making of lists to provide some semblance of order to chaos is a necessity.
The season is stressful enough, and if you’ve ever tried to get a parking spot at South Coast Plaza in the days preceding the 25th, or tried to negotiate the Wild West of Southbound on the 405 you probably have discovered that people are pretty ruthless.
In spite of it being a season of giving, obligations and stress create a recipe for inner directed strife. It’s easy to become consumed with the day to day aggravations, ambitions, slights, workplace politics and petty squabbles that seem very, very important somehow. But, as always, perspective is reality. They aren’t that important. Here’s where lists can be particularly helpful.
There are actually reams of documented studies that show the pro-social and beneficial effects of gratitude. Let’s name a few:
Gratitude tends to help win friends and influence people. It turns out people like being thanked and acknowledged. Who would’ve thought? It is central to creating positive relationships with others.
Grateful people feel fewer aches and pains and are generally healthier. Now, I’m not sure if this is really a direct causal relationship – doubtful – but rather correlates with generally positive people who, by their nature, take better care of themselves. I also think being less self-obsessed reduces the perceived magnitude of the usual aches and pains. It might even help your hill climbing.
Gratitude increases happiness. Expressing gratitude has an inverse relationship to feelings of depression. If you think about more deeply, an attitude of gratitude squeezes out those feelings of anger, jealousy, insecurity, resentment … and all that toxic brew of negative emotions that sap our sense of happiness. Do what you can to not be a Scrooge.
Gratitude reduces aggression and increases empathy. Sure, the fat guy in the beige Volvo was laying on his horn when we were clearly in the bike lane. Do people not know what the sharrow symbol painted on the road means!? Grateful people are probably a little less likely to feel that momentary satisfaction with the direct hit they made on the side of his door with their water bottle. I’m not gonna lie. I need to work on this. I find such things immensely satisfying sometimes.
Grateful people sleep better. It’s not explained why, but I presume jotting down the things you happen to be grateful for tends to minimize the ruminating and residual stress that keeps people awake. Sleep is probably the single best performance enhancing practice. It is essential to help us recover from the combination of the physical strain of hard riding and life’s perpetual stresses.
Gratitude increases the self esteem of athletes, and is considered an important tool in the sports psychologist tool chest to increase performance among athletes.
Gratitude increases mental toughness. We won’t be able to eliminate the stress of our daily lives, especially the ones that are exacerbated at this time of year, but thinking about the things that we are grateful for puts them in their proper context so they don’t become consuming.
The last point is important. It gets back to context. Many of us recently attended the Food Drive Ride sponsored by Rock n Road. Who do you think that was for? There are people among us who don’t know when they’ll get their next meal. You think you have it bad? Think about your circumstances? You live in one of the most desirable places on Earth, with weather the rest of the world envies, in a geographical bubble of opportunity and affluence, and we spend our free time riding a bicycle that costs thousands of dollars – for fun.
You’d better be grateful. Start that gratitude list. Do it daily. You’ll be less of a scrooge.