An Exercise in Gratitude

Adult urgent care entranceGratitude is one of the pillars of happiness — “the parent of all virtues” (Wood, Joseph and Linley, 2007). Here is a way to begin the New Year on a positive note.  I created this task for professionals-in-training and their teachers, but others might want to try it as well.

Take some time to think about how professionals have contributed to your own well being during the course of your life. Imagining who belongs within the abstract category of workers we call “professionals” raises many issues, and you might want to think about this at a later time. For now, just go with your own sense of the matter.  In general, professionals are people who have high levels of technical expertise, practices grounded in a shared, empirically grounded knowledge-base, control over their own certification process, a comparatively high level of autonomy, a code of ethics. There are many points of view on the matter, so just see where your thoughts take you. With no pretense or hope of comprehensiveness, here are a few of my own reflections:

There were the nurses and physicians who helped my mother “deliver” me into the world, and who saw to my health in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Dr. Wright, the general practitioner, came to the house when someone was sick, examining us, and perhaps writing a prescription for the pharmacist (another professional) to fill.  There were the teachers who taught me to read, write, develop new skills, solve problems and adapt (more or less) to the demands of life in post-industrial society. Mrs. Gephart, the school nurse at Edina Elementary School, took me under her wing.  She let me help in the nurse’s office after lunch, when all the other kids went out for recess.  I much preferred the company of a caring adult to braving the frigid Minnesota cold on the playground after lunch every day! Mr. Jambeck, my 11th grade English teacher, taught me to appreciate how, in order to really understand the literature and the visual arts of each era, one needed to consider the contexts in which they were produced. In many respects, this insight made me who I am: inspired my interests and my life’s work. Architects and contractors designed and built the dwellings that gave my family and me shelter from the elements. When I was 9 or 10 years old, my Dad showed me the blueprint of our suburban home.  What a wonder!  Decades later, a wise and competent lawyer helped set me free of an unfortunate relationship that no amount of time, effort, love or forgiveness could repair…

If all this suggests an embrace of an old-style functionalist and “celebrationist” mindset — well, so be it! The experience and expression of gratitude can have personal and societal benefits (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson, 2005). We tend to take professionals and their contributions for granted. So every once in awhile, we ought to drop our critical lances (yes, lances, not lenses) on the ground and recalibrate, taking into consideration the benefits we derive from the professionals whose work contributes in so many ways to our health and well-being. The system as a whole is flawed, but essential to our diverse ways of life and amenable to improvement.  — Ed Prof

Further Reading

Encyclopedia of Gratitude (A free source of things for which to be grateful compiled by Erich Origen.  Print version available in February, 2012)

Gratitude (Wikipedia.Org entry provides a useful overview as well as citations of empirical studies on the nature and consequences of gratitude.)

Leo Babauta (2007). Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy .  Posted on Zenhabits.net .

References

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N.,& Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421

Wood, A., Joseph, S. and Linley, A. (2007).  Gratitude — Parent of all virtuesThe Psychologist, 20, 1:  18 – 20.

 All rights reserved, 2012

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