By Chief Lee Tramel, Knox County Sheriff’s Office
“Count your blessings; name them one by one; count your many blessings, see what God has done.” Remember that soul lifting hymn? Do you know that expressing your thankfulness year round can actually help make you happier, healthier, and reduce stress? As Thanksgiving approaches we are reminded that we need to appreciate even the simple pleasures and be aware on a continuous basis of just how much we’ve been given. As writer Marelisa Fabrega said, “Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present.”
Psychologists are finding out in scientific studies that gratitude heightens the quality of our lives. In one experiment, several hundred people were divided into three different groups and all were instructed to keep daily diaries. The first group was told to write about their daily lives with no other instructions. The second group was told to write only about unpleasant events that happened to them daily. The third group was asked to make a daily list of things for which they were grateful. The results showed that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy. The people in the gratitude group also experienced less depression, exercised more regularly, and were more likely to help others.
Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California is considered to be the world’s leading authority on gratitude. He is author of the book, Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. His research has shown that those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have stronger immune systems, and have strong social relationships than those who don’t practice gratitude. He says, “To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.”
“‘Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present.’”
All of us tend to take for granted all the good in our lives. One exercise that helps heighten your sensitivity to thankfulness is to imagine losing some of the things that you take for granted, such as your home, the ability to see or hear, or anything that gives you comfort. Then imagine getting each one of those back, one by one, and how grateful you are. Many experts in the field of gratitude believe we should start finding joy in the small things instead of waiting for the big achievements. Even in adversity, we should be asking what is good about this? What can I learn from this?
As an Assistant Chief in the Knox County Sheriff’s Office I’ve learned over the years that gratitude can be an officer’s most powerful tool. We use it so many times on the job—dealing as a hostage negotiator, as we try to get the suspect to focus on the good things in life. We use gratitude especially as we talk to people who are in crisis or threatening suicide. I believe that police officers understand better than anyone that we have to learn how to ride the ups and downs of life.
So, how do we teach our children the true meaning of thanksgiving and live it every day of the year? The best way is to learn it ourselves, so we can show our children the way. There are many ways to practice gratitude. One is a journal of gratitude, writing down a list of three to ten things every day for which you are grateful. Another exercise is to write a gratitude letter to a person who has influenced your life. You can even set up a face to face meeting and read the letter.
Kansas City minister, Will Bowen, gave a challenge to go 21 days without complaining, criticizing, or gossiping. Millions of people took him up on the proposal and wore purple “No-Complaint” wristbands as a reminder. Along a similar theme, you can wear bracelets with charms to represent the things or people for which you are most thankful.
Singer, songwriter, and poet Willie Nelson said it best, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”
Lee Tramel is the Assistant Chief Deputy for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. During his 26 year career, he also served in the civil warrants division and as Assistant Director of the Court Services Division. Lee is a Knoxville native, where he lives with his wife and 10 year old daughter.