It’s Sunday night and snowing. I have already slid and fallen once and changed out of sodden boots twice. I’m on the phone with my mother and I’m about to put an end to my procrastination. My stack of reading is on the table in my apartment, just begging me to start flipping pages.
Two friends burst through the front door, soaked with runny snow, and snatch up a container lid for sledding. They run laughing out the door and toss an invitation for me to join over their shoulders.
I hang up the phone and stand in the middle of the room with an irritated frown as I contemplate the work that waits for me. I don’t yet know it, but I’m about to be thankful for my friends’ interruption.
In an article called “The Joy of Thanks,” Robert Emmons explores the healing benefits of gratitude. He writes of the method for self-actualization established by Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist: “Appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others.”
By definition, self-actualization is fulfilling potential by means of spontaneity, independence and an awareness of reality.
In short, be impulsive at times. View the ordinary as miraculous.
My thoughts are sliced by shrieks and hysterics outside. I shove my feet back into my wet boots, pull on a pair of mittens, slam the door behind me and run through the trees. I pause to try to capture the moment and take a photo of an icicle caught in a copper cast of streetlight. For a poetic moment, I’m grateful to have stared through a sliver of ice so close, from an angle only I have seen.
Emmons asserts that focusing on the positive aspects of one’s own psychology, such as gratitude, can lead to physical, spiritual and mental well-being. He says that gratitude dispels negative emotions that obstruct long-term happiness, and an awareness of gratitude boosts general life satisfaction, according to psychological research.
The image on my camera blurs, but time is slipping away, so I continue my trek to the intramural fields. Someone has flipped the lights on, and the flat whiteness is lit up like a fluorescent version of the moon.
A cluster of my girlfriends is floundering around on a slant of hill and trying to form a luge for their sleds. A gaggle of guys is at the other end of the fields, chanting and playing something that involves a weird mosh pit formation.
We look like children with our mismatched snow gear and flailing gestures of utter glee. Every snowflake is exciting because it contributes to the snowman we make, exposing muddy patches of grass as we roll its pieces across the field.
Even a student who briefly avoids studying by engaging in an activity worthy of gratitude can reduce his or her stress level.
Emmons cites research by the HeartMath Institute, which revealed that “consciously experiencing appreciation increases parasympathetic activity, a change thought to be beneficial in controlling stress and hypertension.”
For the religious or spiritual soul, gratitude can help a person attain a higher spiritual level.
“Just as a grateful person recognizes the positive contributions of other people to one’s well-being,” Emmons says, “people with grateful dispositions may also be oriented toward recognition of non-human forces that might contribute to their well-being in a broader, more existential sense – luck, chance, God or some other conception of the divine.”
Self-actualization stems from the independent thoughts of our belief systems, but it is also threaded through reality. In my reality, I have friends to follow. And I’m grateful they remind me how to have fun and how to feel more than what my average day allows.
More students at the University of Richmond need to find this feeling. The number of students who have visited campus Counseling and Psychological Services this year has risen by six percent in comparison to last year and the number of counseling appointments has risen by 12.7 percent, according to CAPS representatives.
During the 2010-2011 academic year, some of the most common reasons for visiting CAPS among men and women were relationship issues, anxiety, stress and depression, according to the representatives.
Writer Koren Zailckas quotes a man seeking spiritual instruction from a guru Maharaj: “I need a stirring of the heart, a renewal of life, and not a new way of thinking. There are no new ways of thinking, but feelings can be ever fresh.”