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Practicing Gratitude

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Carla Birnbaum11.24.20

We have a Thanksgiving tradition in our house that started when my now “tweenage” daughters were very young. We have a big (stuffed animal) Gratitude Turkey. His feathers are pieces of card stock paper, and starting in early November we write things you are grateful for on them. By Thanksgiving Day, Doc McStuffings (yes, that’s really his name) is overflowing with feathers. 

In our home, we use Doc to practice Hakarat Hatov, literally recognizing the good, a core Jewish value. We continually show gratitude during prayers and within our communities. During the summer at Ramah Darom, this value can be seen often. Words of appreciation are heard throughout Camp every day, not just during tefillah (prayer). 

There’s an old Yiddish proverb that goes, “Tracht gut vet zein gut” — “Think good and it will be good.”

Focus on silver linings. Count your blessings. Stop to smell the roses. These aren’t just cliches; they’re phrases if put into practice, research shows may enhance your quality of life. 

The health benefits of practicing gratitude are wide-ranging — and maybe even a bit surprising. 

Improving your immune system. The practice of gratitude can improve immune function, according to the American Heart Association. This is especially important during the COVID-19 crisis, since people with compromised immune systems face a high risk of becoming severely ill from coronavirus.

Getting a handle on stress. According to the National Institutes of Health, focusing on positive emotions can help improve your ability to cope with stress. 

Lowering your risk for mental health issues. Studies have shown that people who practiced gratitude showed a significantly lower risk for major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, substance dependence and abuse, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

Setting yourself up for success. In clinical trials, grateful people have been shown to exercise more and eat healthier diets. 

Practicing gratitude can be easy, rewarding and fun.

Cultivating thankfulness isn’t homework, and it doesn’t require much time or energy. You can start small by taking a few moments to notice things that are going well in your life. 

To help make this a regular habit, set aside a short time each day to intentionally practice gratitude. Try one or more of these activities to start.

Jot Down Your Joys.

Make a habit of writing down the things you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be a long list, but if you regularly challenge yourself to identify and name your gratitude, you may notice an improvement in your emotional well-being.

Try sitting down and listing out: (Download a Ramah Darom Gratitude Journal.)

  • One place that is safe and relaxes you
  • One thing that’s going well in your life
  • Three things you enjoy
  • Three things you’re looking forward to
  • Two people whom you love and who love you

If this sounds like too much to tackle, pick and choose what you’d like to focus on. Feel free to change it up depending on your mood or ability. We do this type of activity at Shabbat dinner. I’m sure you can imagine the number of times Camp comes up in all of these categories. 

Camp is safe, relaxing, and something we all look forward to every year. Our Camp friends are our chosen family; they mean so much to us, and we are so grateful. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that people who practice gratitude are: 

  • More generous and helpful
  • More likely to offer emotional support 
  • More likely to share their possessions
  • More willing to forgive others

If ever there was a time when these traits were needed, it’s now.

However, we’re living in 2020, which is a trying time. That’s why it’s perhaps more important than ever to focus on gratitude — the practice of noticing and being thankful for what is valuable and meaningful to you every day. It’s good for your mental and physical health, it can help you relax and its effects can help you stay well through the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. And, if you need a second opinion, just ask Doc (McStuffings).

About the Author

Carla Birnbaum

Carla (right) with Dr. Audra Kaplan (left) during Kayitz (summer) 2019 at Camp.

Carla Birnbaum is thrilled to be a part of the phenomenal camper care team! She holds a BA in Communications from Oglethorpe University and a MA in Jewish Education from Siegel College. Carla currently works at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta within the Community Impact division. Her job includes finding ways to create meaningful communal Jewish engagement within the North Metro Atlanta community. Carla’s work as an educator and curriculum specialist has earned professional accolades including two Solomon Schechter awards for programmatic innovation. Her primary role at Camp for the past five summers was running the Gan (day camper care for staff children) and helping with staff training and development. Having worked with children of all ages throughout her life, Carla loves the way Camp amplifies Jewish identity in a way no other Jewish experience can. She was originally hired by Ramah in 1997 (the summer Darom opened), as tzevet (staff) drama. In her spare time, Carla loves photography, traveling and playing board games with her family. She is also an avid reader. Carla lives in Johns Creek, GA with her husband, Scott, daughters Isabella (12) and Hannah (10), and her rescue dog, Ginger.

Looking for more great advice? Check out The Yoetz Porch.