The science of gratitude

Hot Off the Collar | Volume 11

As I write this, we’re just a few days from Thanksgiving weekend; a time for family, tradition and of course, appreciation. Not surprisingly as I shuffled through the radio dial on my drive to work, I came across a woman talking about “practicing gratitude”. My initial response could be described as a mixture of irritation and sarcasm. 2020 has been dominated by a global pandemic, political division and overt racism. What exactly do we have to be grateful for?

Of course, that’s a short-sighted perspective. I could list hundreds of things and people in my life that are worthy of thanks. As I listened to her talk about the tangible effects of gratitude, it occurred to me that I was looking forward to arriving at the office. As difficult and emotional as the field of animal welfare can be, the idea that we save animals and connect families with lifelong companions overrides all of the horrible things we see.

That’s when I realized that I was, in fact, “practicing gratitude” and feeling pretty good about it. Despite my inclination to trivialize the idea that we should give thanks, it is supported by science. Robert A. Emmons, is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. His research indicates that, “gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.” The University of Kentucky completed a study into gratitude in 2012 and their findings confirmed that people who were more inclined to be grateful, “experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.” Here I was sneering at the idea of overtly expressing gratitude and all along, it’s been a tonic for everything negative that surrounds us.

I shouldn’t really be surprised. I’ve actually been a vocal proponent of this concept without realizing it. When people ask me how things are going at the Humane Society my stock answer is, “I’m pretty lucky. As difficult as it is some days, I can always go and take a dog for a walk or bring a kitten into my office.” After uttering those sentences I would find myself peaceful and calm, as if just saying the words (expressing the gratitude) took me to a different mindset. I guess it did.

This revelation leads me to a list that, just a day or so ago, I would’ve dismissed as trite or corny.

The things I’m thankful for:

The incredible staff I work with. They are more committed to healing animals that anyone I’ve ever met, their energy is boundless and they never fail to make me laugh…and cry (good tears).

My friends. They’ve supported me in whatever field I’ve chosen but so many have told me, “You finally found your home at the Humane Society.” They’re right.

My family. My dad is a paragon of strength and morality. My sisters are kind and strong. My children are smart and accomplished and my wife is my light and my love. She’s also taught me – by example – the value of gratitude.

My cats. They are unique and full of an innate empathy. When I’m sad or sick, they stay close to me and when I’m happy, they’re playful or affectionate.

My job. Since May of 2019, I’ve found inspiration in what we do and in my role here. You can’t ask for much more from a job.

You. Since I started this blog more than a year ago, your comments have kept me motivated, your generosity – especially during COVID – has been astonishing and your commitment to our cause has been unparalleled.

That’s my list – for now. As I noted above, it could be much longer and I’ll keep working on recognizing the people and things I’m grateful for. After all, it’s scientifically proven to make you feel better and aside from the occasional puppy or kitten, not many other things are guaranteed to accomplish that feat.

– Gord Hunter, Executive Director

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