Gratitude – Good for Our Health

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, which is all about gratitude, I want to begin this blog by sharing with you, in a public way, what I am most grateful for:  my wife and best friend, Joan. We have been married almost 40 years, and have been best friends for 48 years. (We met in 10th grade!) I am also grateful for my seven children and my first grandchild. I am grateful for all the special people who have come into my life, especially those who have helped me along the way, and who have all contributed to who I am today. I have been blessed to have some incredible people guide me.

My gratitude overflows this year as we anticipate the marriage of our youngest daughter to a wonderful young man in January.  It is also truly a Brakhah [blessing] to be living in the Teaneck community and serving as Head of School at Schechter Bergen.  The warmth and welcoming nature of this community has been overwhelming. Clearly we have seen our Jewish values in action by the kindness that has been extended to us in so many ways.  We feel we are home. 

In addition, I do not take lightly the privilege to serve as your Head of School at Schechter – it is a distinct honor.  I keenly recognize that without you, our parents, and all of our alumni parents and community members who believe in a Jewish day school education, Schechter would not exist. I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know my new colleagues and to work with a passionate, professional staff that is truly committed to each child and to one another. And I am grateful for the very special Schechter students I see each and every day. Just seeing them in their classes, or greeting them at the door each morning, puts a smile on my face, and often makes my day.  I have been especially impressed by how polite and engaging our children are. Derekh Eretz [common decency] is a value they have certainly internalized. I have one of the most meaningful and joyful jobs I could have, and for that I am grateful.

Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to remember that gratitude is a value and a feeling that is central to our Jewish tradition. In fact, the Pilgrims borrowed the ideas and values of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot when they celebrated the first Thanksgiving.  Long before science could verify it, our ancestors were onto something: Gratitude is not only good for our humility, it is good for our health. Grateful people can have stronger immune systems and enjoy better health. Studies have shown that grateful people are more likely to exercise and get regular physical exams. Gratefulness can temper negative emotions such as resentment, envy, and jealousy. And it appears that grateful people have better relationships.

Our consumerist society constantly bombards us with the next best thing and the visibility of what others have, challenging our ability to be grateful. But this is not new. Our sages taught, “Who is rich? Those who rejoice in their own portion.”  Apparently, the ability to be grateful is a challenge as old as civilization itself.

It is ironic that in a time of incredible abundance, too many people seem more anxious, less appreciative, less compassionate, and less community-minded.  It is no coincidence that mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and dozens of gratitude apps have flooded the market. There is a general recognition that something ails our society, fostering a heightened longing to get to a better place.

This Thanksgiving, let’s set some time aside to express to family and friends all that we are grateful for. We all have so much, even in the face of our individual challenges. Life is not free of crisis, challenge, loss, failure, or disappointment. Because all of these things are a part of life, how much more so to express our gratitude for all that we do have.

Judaism gives us a blueprint for expressing gratitude each and every day through prayer and Brakhot. For those of us who do not engage in daily Tefillah, it is important to develop habits of expressing gratitude each and every day. We can express it out loud, and keep a gratitude journal. Start each day by taking a moment to count our blessings, and to take a moment before we go to bed to reflect on all of the things we were grateful for during the day.  And of course, now can always be the time to add Brakhot and Tefillah to our lives!

I want to end with this: We are living in challenging, morally ambiguous times. Even in times of stress and uncertainty, or in times of personal loss or crisis, we can find a moment for gratitude. 

During the Civil War, when our country was violently being torn apart, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed in October 1863:

“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy … I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

I wish you and your family a healthy, meaningful, thankful, and fun Thanksgiving holiday and weekend.

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