By Tom Ferraro, Ph.D.
Jan. 25th 2006
Syndicated to the 23 newspapers and one million readers of the Jouranl Register Company
All rights reserved

The concept of gratitude is something that we all need to learn more about.
(Photo by Anthony Hetherington)

There are many many things that psychology has shown little interest in studying. Wisdom, hope, love, forgiveness, humility and gratitude are core spiritual values that have been largely ignored by the psychology research labs. We live in a secular age and science has shown little more then disdain, even contempt for such vague and untestable spiritual ideas. Recently I have been asked to supervise the research work of a young Intel scholar and he has decided to study certain spiritual ideas in sport. It goes without saying that we have had an impossibly hard time getting his research protocol past the steering committee.

You may recall recent articles I have written about spiritual guidance in sport and how it helped me in my quest to win my club championship. There is no doubt that the spiritual support and wisdom I gained contributed significantly to my success this fall.

So let us take a moment to learn at the very outdated and un-American attitude called gratitude, thank you very much. I began to notice a new phrase that has slipped into our language thanks to Ann Curry of The Today Show. I have noticed that for the longest time she would not be satisfied to say ‘thank you’ to her guests on the show but would say instead “Thank you so much” then I noticed that Katie Couric picked up on this and she started to say the same thing. And now it is always ‘thank you so much’ to every guest she interviews. Watch and see if I’m right. I think everyone wants to show deep signs of gratitude maybe to make up for years of selfishness and guilt. I don’t know.

I take all this as a good sing of things changing. You see we live in an age of narcissism and as such people feel so very entitled and above it all. All these folks have what we call pseudo-independence in psychology which means they feel they are above everyone else and have no need to be grateful for anything. You will frequently see this in psychotherapy when the patient seems to swallow up insights hungrily and likes to pretend he came up with them himself. It is really amazing to see it in action. Narcissists are never grateful to anyone for anything. Oh it must be lonely at the top.

That is why it has been so interesting to watch Tiger Woods transform golf by instilling a team approach which is his way of saying I need help and I appreciate help when I am given it. Gratitude is clearly an Asian trait far more then an American one and Woods is 50% Asian thanks to his mom.

Naiken is the Japanese philosophy which emphasizes gratitude and healthy guilt, two concepts that have been foreign to American culture for a long time. Robert Emmons, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology from University of California Davis who is the foremost authority on topic of gratitude. He has found that grateful people also tend to be optimistic, hopeful and happy. He discovered that gratitude is blocked by feelings of entitlement, a trait of the narcissist. He tries to help people to see how profoundly supported we all are by those around us. Almost like we are supported by invisible hands that are always there to catch us if we fall. You may choose to call this God or goodness.

I can see he is right and so is the Japanese philosophy called Naiken. When I lost my son last month it was only with the support and goodness of the EMT and police that I got through that first night. When Jordan’s friend and I waited for the police to arrive to help us, I remember being enveloped by a profound sense of gratitude that they were there to help us. If that is not the presence of a godhead I don’t know what is. I even felt deep gratitude toward the medical examiner for her kindness and support as she helped me to identify Jordan’s body.

Gratitude is something we need more of as Americans. We are not alone and we cannot do things on our own. We need to learn to say thank you more often and to feel thankful to others who so often show love and thoughtfulness to us. We always like to teach our young to say thank you when they receive something. It seems that we are engaging in a quaint little task as we try to teach this. But in fact it’s a profound lesson that we are trying to instill. When we teach our five year old to say ‘thank you’ we are actually saying to them “You see there is lots of love and caring in the world and it’s a very good idea to realize this and to show your appreciation.” We are teaching about the value of gratitude.

So lets hear it for Ann Curry and Katie Couric for using that phrase “Thank you so much”. They are serving as great role models for the country whether they know it or not. And let me make a prediction. Some day in the future sport psychology will be brave enough and smart enough to look at these ‘core values’ that are now the domain of the religious. I have always felt that concepts like gratitude, wisdom, hope, love, charity, humor and courage are useful and practical ideas that people have the right to be taught. Psychology is still in its infancy and sport psychology is younger yet. It’s high time we grew up as a field of study and started researching topics that people actually need to learn about.