PrayerofgratitudeA delightful article in the Thanksgiving issue of The New York Times reveals a secret ingredient in creativity.

It’s gratitude.

In “Let Us Give Thanks. In Writing,” reporter Henry Fountain describes the positive effects of focusing on how grateful we are for the small and large aspects of life:

“There are really tangible, concrete benefits to being grateful,” said Dr. [Robert] Emmons, the author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier

Health improves, relationships get better, people are more active and enthusiastic. There are benefits for others, too, as happier people are more creative, productive and easier to be around.

Each of us has a set point for our happiness. That’s the general level of happiness that a person feels. Some folks are set at a generally happy point. Some are set generally lower, others higher. Keeping a Gratitude Journal, which Fountain’s article recommends, helps to lift you (and perhaps your set point) to a happier place.

Is it true? Does it work?

It does for me.

So, I start every creativity class with a question: “What good thing happened in your life since we were last together?”

It sounds lighthearted, but the intention is very real. You see, we go through our lives putting out the fires and being distressed (or at least stressed) by our challenges. They’re real challenges, so the stress is understandable.

But we can lose perspective. When we live every day focused only on the challenges, we think that our lives are troubled; actually our lives are wonderful with some troubles added. We really need to acknowledge Scott Peck’s classic first sentence — “Life is difficult.” — from The Road Less Traveled and move on.

How do I know that my students’ lives are so good?
Here’s a dose of reality: In a world where one billion people are looking for water that is clean enough to drink, here is a room of vital, well-fed people who have the time and shelter to sit with others and discuss creativity. I don’t know what your vision of heaven is, but that’s mine.

Right here, right now. Welcome to heaven on Earth.

Let’s remind ourselves of our good fortune. Surely, our lives have challenges. We have debt. We have health concerns. We have real obstacles to constant happiness.

But let’s not take that too far. Because, if we complain too much about our lives, someone else might hear us and offer to trade lives. And, to be sure, 95% of the world would trade lives with us tomorrow.

We are living some of the best lives in the history of human existence. We should recognize that.

That’s gratitude.

What’s Gratitude Got To Do With Creativity?
Gratitude is thankfulness. Saying “Thanks” requires the thanker to transfer some of the cause for her good fortune to a thankee. In this transfer, the thanker develops relationships, becomes less of an island, becomes more connected to the world around her. Through greater connectivity with the world and people around her, she develops greater perspective and becomes — naturally — more creative.

Proof? There’s Dr. Emmons’ book. Better yet, just play the home version of this game. Remember the Grape Nuts Challenge? (Eat Grape Nuts for 30 days and just see if you don’t feel better.) So, let’s take the, er, Grateful Nuts Challenge. Several times each day, hourly if we can remember to do it, let’s ask the question, “What am I grateful for right now?”

Truly take a look around. Consider the reasons you have to be grateful.

If you eat Grape Nuts, you produce something firm. It’s a fiber thing. If you take the Grateful Nuts Challenge, you will produce more a richer, more creative day. It’s a gratitude thing.

I’m very grateful for your readership. Thank you.