Rachael Miller spoke up in our Bible study and said, "Thankfulness gives life. In the nursing home," she said, "I saw amazing differences between thankful people and unthankful ones." I knew she was right because thankfulness is like a slippery slope up which the enemy has no foothold: the devil can't get near your brain when the path is strewn with thankfulness. Thus for your spiritual weapon #2, I'd like to introduce you to the many benefits of thankfulness via this interview with Rachael Miller.
1. Rachel, in our ladies' Bible Study at Café du Cocoa in Littleton, CO, this past 2020 winter until Covid-19 hit, you shared that as a nursing home administrator, you observed that those elderly who were more thankful lived happier and better lives. Can you explain, please?
"During my time working in Memory Care Communities, I realized that all my residents had amazing stories-- from mothers to Ph.D.’s, published authors, plumbers, JAG lawyers; well, the list of careers was endless. But education did not play much of a role in whether the resident had dementia or how quickly dementia progressed. One day I read a blog from Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist, and a leading brain and learning specialist. She was one of the first to study how the brain can change with directed mind input (neuroplasticity). Dr. Leaf shared that our thoughts can affect whether we acquire dementia and Alzheimer’s. I went back through the stories of my residents. One of the questions we'd ask was, 'How would your family describe your personality? I.E., a wallflower, etc.?' When I read this question, I realized I did not have one resident described as happy, kind, positive, or the person to make you feel loved and accepted. But rather, the majority were described as: a wallflower, only career-focused, stressed, quiet, and without an option, harsh, or hard to please. I am not a scientist or expert, but I realized that there might be a connection between the way one thinks and dementia. This has made me much more aware of how I think."
2. You stated too that "gratitude keeps us in a good attitude." Can you elaborate?
"I heard once, 'The grass is not always greener on the other side; it is greener where it is watered.' I give myself permission to have a good or bad day or be ok. I believe that staying in a good attitude includes acknowledging and being willing to work through the good and the hard stuff of life. Some days I take a few minutes to sit and write a gratefulness list in the middle of the day, and this act resets my attitude. Other days it is a walk, and some days, I need to set a timer and pout till the timer goes off, then place the problem or emotion I was facing in a box until I have more time to face and unpack it. And some days I grab a glass of wine, and wait till tomorrow, or a few weeks later when I feel like I have the emotional energy to work through this part of life."
"The other thing is to make sure you celebrate your wins and not only use gratefulness as a way to survive a hard situation. Celebrate in your way with a glass of wine, steak dinner, favorite dessert, walk in the park, shopping trip, or one of your favorite things."
3. How has this understanding of thankfulness affected the way you live?
"Several years ago, I started a gratefulness journal because it was a challenge from my Mary Kay Sales Director and business coach. I was very consistently inconsistent for many, many years. A few years ago, my grandmother was admitted into the hospital because of depression. During this time, my family learned that my grandmother had battled depression almost her whole life but hid it. At this time, I realized how important my thought life is. This was when I became consistent in keeping my gratefulness journal almost every morning."
"What I have found is on mornings when I don’t take the time for my morning gratefulness, I often realize at some point that my mental game is not bouncing back as quickly as normal."
There are totally days when my grateful list is:
# I woke up;
# I can wear a hat, so I don’t have to do my hair;
# there is food in my fridge;
# gas in my car;
# and that I remembered to brush my teeth. :)
4. Is there anything else I should know or ask which I forgot to ask you--anything you'd like to share?
"I think the biggest thing I have learned is that gratefulness is not a way to avoid or pretend that what we are facing is not there. But a way to re-frame my day or problem. Once I heard someone say that you can't explain a wall painting with a 4x6 frame. I believe that God is the one seeing the wall painting. The biggest way gratefulness has supported my mental health is sitting with Jesus and allowing him to help me grow my frame from 4x6 to maybe an 8x10."
Independent Mary Kay Consultant
Martha Wild King, M. Ed., Author
The Frugal Catholic: Learn to live on less to give and save more.