Psychology Today: The Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for example, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants. Gratitude is getting a great deal of attention as a facet of positive psychology: Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so.
In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.
תניא היה רבי מאיר אומר חייב אדם לברך מאה ברכות בכל יום שנאמר (דברים י, יב) ועתה ישראל מה ה' אלהיך שואל מעמך
It was taught in a Baraita: Rabbi Meir said: a person must make 100 blessings each day, as it is written... (Deuteronomy 10:12) "And now Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you..."
(ד) כל הנותן צדקה לעני בסבר פנים רעות ופניו כבושות בקרקע אפילו נתן לו אלף זהובים אבד זכותו והפסידה אלא נותן לו בסבר פנים יפות ובשמחה
Whoever gives charity with a downtrodden face and a negative attitude, even if he gives a thousand golden dinars, he looses his merit. Rather he should gives it with a positive countenance and with joy.
(יא) הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת ה אֱלֹיךָ לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹר מִצְוֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם. (יב) פֶּן תֹּאכַל וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבָתִּים טוֹבִים תִּבְנֶה וְיָשָׁבְתָּ. (יג) וּבְקָרְךָ וְצֹאנְךָ יִרְבְּיֻן וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב יִרְבֶּה לָּךְ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְךָ יִרְבֶּה. (יד) וְרָם לְבָבֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ אֶת ה אֱלֹיךָ הַמּוֹצִיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים. (טו) הַמּוֹלִיכֲךָ בַּמִּדְבָּר הַגָּדֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא נָחָשׁ שָׂרָף וְעַקְרָב וְצִמָּאוֹן אֲשֶׁר אֵין מָיִם הַמּוֹצִיא לְךָ מַיִם מִצּוּר הַחַלָּמִישׁ. (טז) הַמַּאֲכִלְךָ מָן בַּמִּדְבָּר אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ לְמַעַן עַנֹּתְךָ וּלְמַעַן נַסֹּתֶךָ לְהֵיטִבְךָ בְּאַחֲרִיתֶךָ. (יז) וְאָמַרְתָּ בִּלְבָבֶךָ כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי עָשָׂה לִי אֶת הַחַיִל הַזֶּה.
(11) Beware that you do not forget the Lord, your God, by not keeping His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes, which I command you this day,(12) lest you eat and be sated, and build good houses and dwell therein, (13) and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold increase, and all that you have increases,; (14) and your heart grows haughty, and you forget the Lord, your God, Who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, (15) Who led you through that great and awesome desert, [in which were] snakes, vipers and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought water for you out of solid rock, (16) Who fed you with manna in the desert, which your forefathers did not know, in order to afflict you and in order to test you, to benefit you in your end, (17) and you will say to yourself, "My strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me."
Rabbi Avigdor Miller on Counting Blessings:
You should make a career of counting your blessings, it should be a career! Unfortunately it's not done… There's a tremendous list, because we have so many privileges. If you look around and see people who are unfortunately deprived of what we possess.
In general there are blessings that everybody enjoys, there are blessings, natural things that all mankind has. There are certain things that only American people have, certain things only the middle class, well-to-do people have, so we have so many blessings…
You must spend time on that. So next time, if you're in the country and a mosquito sneaks into your room and gives you a prod, so you're up scratching for a little while, don't waste that time, it's precious time. Or if you're in the city and you can't sleep at night, sometimes for an hour or so, it's a pity to waste that time, start counting your blessings…
If you have a lot of good accounts, good customers, as you're lying in bed enumerate them. If you're healthy in your eyes, if you have a lot of natural teeth, or you have a good set of false teeth, if you're able to hear, a lot of people can't hear. If you don't have migraines, if your stomach is normal, a lot of people cannot eat a good many things because their stomach reacts. If you don't have allergies, so many people are plagued by allergies. Then of course, if you have a good set of lungs which almost everybody has, and if you have a stout heart, there's no end of good things. You must constantly talk about it. And with your mouth.
Therefore it's a wonderful program, it's a lifetime program and it'll repay you with happiness in this world and it will repay you with happiness in the world to come.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller on Unhappiness:
Feeling unhappy is a sin, because it means losing sight of the true facts...How can you overcome it?
You overcome it not by snapping your fingers. It's a matter of a mental attitude that you must acquire by effort, it's a matter of training. You must learn to understand all the things that you actually are having and enjoying right now. And if you do that, you will come to the realization that you are especially chosen to receive very many blessings that most people don't have; that's a fact.
כַּמָה מַעֲלוֹת טוֹבוֹת לַמָּקוֹם עָלֵינוּ!
אִלּוּ קָרַע לָנוּ אֶת-הַיָּם וְלֹא הֶעֱבִירָנוּ בְּתוֹכוֹ בֶּחָרָבָה, דַּיֵּנוּ.
אִלּוּ שִׁקַּע צָרֵנוּ בְּתוֹכוֹ וְלֹא סִפֵּק צָרְכֵּנוּ בַּמִדְבָּר אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה דַּיֵּנוּ.
אִלּוּ קֵרְבָנוּ לִפְנֵי הַר סִינַי, וְלא נַתַן לָנוּ אֶת-הַתּוֹרָה. דַּיֵּנוּ.
אִלּוּ נַתַן לָנוּ אֶת-הַתּוֹרָה וְלֹא הִכְנִיסָנוּ לְאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, דַּיֵּנוּ.
אִלּוּ הִכְנִיסָנוּ לְאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא בָנָה לָנוּ אֶת-בֵּית הַבְּחִירָה דַּיֵּנוּ.
There are so many great things we must thank G-d for!
If He had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had drowned our oppressors in it, and had not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had brought us before Mount Sinai, and had not given us the TorahDayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had given us the Torah, and had not brought us into the land of Israel Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had brought us into the land of Israel, and had not built for us the Beit Habechirah (the Beit Hamikdash: temple) Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
(13) And He [G-d] said to Abram, "You shall surely know that your offspring will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years.
(ו) לָכֵ֞ן אֱמֹ֥ר לִבְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֘ל אֲנִ֣י ה֒ וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם ...(ח) וְהֵבֵאתִ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נָשָׂ֙אתִי֙ אֶת־יָדִ֔י לָתֵ֣ת אֹתָ֔הּ לְאַבְרָהָ֥ם לְיִצְחָ֖ק וּֽלְיַעֲקֹ֑ב וְנָתַתִּ֨י אֹתָ֥הּ לָכֶ֛ם מוֹרָשָׁ֖ה אֲנִ֥י ה׃
6) ...And I will take you out from the burdens of Egypt 8) And I will bring you to the land that I raised My hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and I will give it to you as a heritage;
12) And He said, "For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain (Mount Sinai)"
The Power of Gratitude
In the early 1990s one of the great medical research exercises of modern times took place. It became known as the Nun Study. Some 700 American nuns, all members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in the United States, agreed to allow their records to be accessed by a research team investigating the process of ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease. At the start of the study the participants were aged between 75 and 102.
What gave this study its unusual longitudinal scope is that in 1930 the nuns, then in their twenties, had been asked by the Mother Superior to write a brief autobiographical account of their life and their reasons for entering the convent. These documents were now analysed by the researchers using a specially devised coding system to register, among other things, positive and negative emotions. By annually assessing the nuns’ current state of health, the researchers were able to test whether their emotional state in 1930 had an effect on their health some sixty years later. Because they had all lived a very similar lifestyle during these six decades, they formed an ideal group for testing hypotheses about the relationship between emotional attitudes and health.
The results, published in 2001, were startling. The more positive emotions – contentment, gratitude, happiness, love and hope – the nuns expressed in their autobiographical notes, the more likely they were to be alive and well sixty years later. The difference was as much as seven years in life expectancy. So remarkable was this finding that it has led, since then, to a new field of gratitude research, as well as a deepening understanding of the impact of emotions on physical health.
What medicine now knows about individuals, Moses knew about nations. Gratitude – hakarat ha-tov – is at the heart of what he has to say about the Israelites and their future in the Promised Land. Gratitude had not been their strong point in the desert. They complained about lack of food and water, about the manna and the lack of meat and vegetables, about the dangers they faced from the Egyptians as they were leaving and about the inhabitants of the land they were about to enter. They lacked thankfulness during the difficult times. A greater danger still, said Moses, would be a lack of gratitude during the good times. This is what he warned:
When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery … Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ (Deut. 8:11-17)
The worst thing that could happen to them, warned Moses, would be that they forgot how they came to the land, how God had promised it to their ancestors, and had taken them from slavery to freedom, sustaining them during the forty years in the wilderness. This was a revolutionary idea: that the nation’s history be engraved on people’s souls, that it was to be re-enacted in the annual cycle of festivals, and that the nation, as a nation, should never attribute its achievements to itself – “my power and the might of my own hand” – but should always ascribe its victories, indeed its very existence, to something higher than itself: to God. This is a dominant theme of Deuteronomy, and it echoes throughout the book time and again.
Since the publication of the Nun Study and the flurry of further research it inspired, we now know of the multiple effects of developing an attitude of gratitude. It improves physical health and immunity against disease. Grateful people are more likely to take regular exercise and go for regular medical check-ups. Thankfulness reduces toxic emotions such as resentment, frustration and regret and makes depression less likely. It helps people avoid over-reacting to negative experiences by seeking revenge. It even tends to make people sleep better. It enhances self-respect, making it less likely that you will envy others for their achievements or success. Grateful people tend to have better relationships. Saying “thank you” enhances friendships and elicits better performance from employees. It is also a major factor in strengthening resilience. One study of Vietnam War Veterans found that those with higher levels of gratitude suffered lower incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Remembering the many things we have to be thankful for helps us survive painful experiences, from losing a job to bereavement.
Jewish prayer is an ongoing seminar in gratitude. Birkot ha-Shachar (The Morning Blessings), ‘the Dawn Blessings’ said at the start of morning prayers each day, form a litany of thanksgiving for life itself: for the human body, the physical world, land to stand on and eyes to see with. The first words we say each morning – Modeh/Modah ani, “I thank you” – mean that we begin each day by giving thanks.
Gratitude also lies behind a fascinating feature of the Amidah. When the leader of prayer repeats the Amidah aloud, we are silent other than for the responses ofKedushah, and saying Amen after each blessing, with one exception. When the leader says the words Modim anachnu lakh, “We give thanks to You,” the congregation says the a parallel passage known as Modim de-Rabbanan. For every other blessing of the Amidah, it is sufficient to assent to the words of the leader by saying Amen. The one exception is Modim , “We give thanks.” Rabbi Elijah Spira (1660–1712) in his work Eliyahu Rabbah explains that when it comes to saying thank you, we cannot delegate this away to someone else to do it on our behalf. Thanks has to come directly from us.
Part of the essence of gratitude is that it recognizes that we are not the sole authors of what is good in our lives. The egoist, says Andre Comte-Sponville, “is ungrateful because he doesn’t like to acknowledge his debt to others and gratitude is this acknowledgement.” La Rochefoucald put it more bluntly: “Pride refuses to owe, self-love to pay.” Thankfulness has an inner connection with humility. It recognizes that what we are and what we have is due to others, and above all to God. Comte-Sponville adds: “Those who are incapable of gratitude live in vain; they can never be satisfied, fulfilled or happy: they do not live, they get ready to live, as Seneca puts it.”
Though you don’t have to be religious to be grateful, there is something about belief in God as creator of the universe, shaper of history and author of the laws of life that directs and facilitates our gratitude. It is hard to feel grateful to a universe that came into existence for no reason and is blind to us and our fate. It is precisely our faith in a personal God that gives force and focus to our thanks.
 See Robert Emmons, Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
 Danner, Deborah D., David A. Snowdon, and Wallace V. Friesen. “Positive Emotions in Early Life and Longevity: Findings from the Nun Study.”
 Much of the material in this paragraph is to be found in articles published in Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life @ http://greatergood.berkeley.edu.
 Eliyahu Rabbah, Orach Chayyim 127: 1.
 André Comte-Sponville, A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. London: Heinemann, 2002.