Several years ago, I started a daily practice of naming three things that I am grateful for each day. Scientists and self-help gurus were all communicating the same idea; practicing gratitude makes you a more grateful person. Gratitude especially in a year like 2020, doesn’t come easy. Henri Nouwen, a writer, professor, and priest who spent decades living in the L’Arche communities for people with physical and developmental disabilities, wrote in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, “The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. Because every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until, finally, even the most normal, obvious and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace.”
As it turns out, research shows that practicing gratitude also makes you healthier. It reduces stress, lowers risk for mental health issues, and even improves immune function. Dr. Judith T. Moskowitz, a psychologist at Northwestern University, and her team have been studying how practicing skills like keeping a gratitude journal, meditating, and performing acts of kindness can help people cope with stress and improve their mental and physical health. “By practicing these skills, it will help you cope better with whatever you have to cope with,” Moskowitz explains. “Ultimately, it can help you be not just happier but also healthier.” Her team has been developing and testing these skills with people who have illnesses like advanced cancer, diabetes, HIV, and depression. She’s also worked with people who care for others with serious illnesses.
We see gratitude manifested every day at Moveable Feast. Clients send notes expressing their thanks for the home-delivered, nutritious food that helps them improve their health and quality of life. Volunteers are grateful for the opportunity to connect (from a safe distance) with the people we serve. The staff and board acknowledge with gratitude the support from our compassionate community of donors and volunteers.
Research shows that gratitude can also lead to generosity. “In a sense, gratitude seems to prepare the brain for generosity… Perhaps this is why researchers have observed that grateful people give more.” Our brains create a gratitude-generosity loop—we are thankful for the generosity shown to us, and that thankfulness inspires our own compassion and generosity. Gratitude is generosity in action.
As we head into the final months of 2020, Moveable Feast is grateful for the support of our volunteers and donors who have helped us meet the challenges we have faced throughout the pandemic. I recognize the generosity of the staff, board, clients, volunteers, and funding partners who have shown flexibility and resiliency over the last nine months. And Moveable Feast commits to action in pursuit of justice, equality and inclusion.
If you would like to support Moveable Feast to feed people, fight disease and foster hope, please visit www.mfeast.org to learn more about our work or to make a gift.
Sue Elias is the Executive Director of Moveable Feast.