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Grat·i·tude \ˈɡradəˌt(y)o͞od/ (noun): the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for, and to return kindness.

synonyms: gratefulness, thankfulness, thanks, appreciation, indebtedness; recognition, acknowledgment, credit.

What is it? According to Robert Emmons, “perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, there are two key components to gratitude: “First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.” In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves…”’ What gratitude looks like in the brain, according to brain scan research conducted by Dr. Glen Fox and University of Southern California, is a “complex social emotion… It involves morality, connecting with others, and taking their perspective.” (Greater Good Science Center, 2016)

I love it when science makes breakthrough discoveries and when we listen, something deep inside says, “I already know this…” We realize we are hearing truth in a different language and because of that, we hear it like it’s brand new! There are good things in the world and we know the source is not ourselves!

My Gratitude Awakening began almost 4 years ago as several ladies at Kudjip in PNG decided to journey together through Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, (which I highly recommend)- and what a self-revealing journey it has been. Ann writes, “Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”(2010)  It was the first time I realized that gratitude and grace are, by God’s design, inseparable. We most fully experience God’s grace when we allow ourselves to embrace gratitude.

Why does it matter? Well, for starters, being grateful makes us happy. For example, research has shown that when a person writes a 300-word letter of gratitude to a person for whom they are thankful, and then reads it out loud to that person, the one who wrote the letter will experience increased happiness and decreased depression for up to 3 months afterward (Seligman, 2004). I tried this and can personally say it’s true! As I read my letter of gratitude, we were both in tears. It was a profound, lasting and happy experience!

In 2014, Forbes magazine published a list of benefits that are directly associated with increased gratitude in a person’s life. This includes better relationships, better physical health, reduced depression, reduced anger and frustration, better sleep and increased resilience (Nov. 23, 2014). Business coaches are encouraging employees to intentionally practice gratitude for better workplace satisfaction. Sounds good to me!

But maybe the most significant is that God has commanded us to be thankful. Commanded? Like we are ‘commanded’ to be alive? ‘Commanded’ to breathe? No, not commanded, but invited, created for. We have been invited to experience the sacred space where gratitude gives way to peace. Paul gives us a peek into this mysterious link between thankfulness and peace in his letter to the Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, … with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is what we were created for.

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What can I do about it? A simple “how to be more grateful’ search on ‘Google’ renders 152,000,000 results. If that’s a bit overwhelming, here are some starting places for effective ways we can intentionally experience more gratitude:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal. Research indicates that a simple act of writing down 3 things that we are thankful for everyday will have a significant impact on our overall ability to be tuned in to those things; the benefits of this positive mindset are immediately realized. If you like apps, try these: Gratitude365, 10 Reasons or Grid Diary.
  2. Practice ancient prayers of gratitude. Psalms are filled with heartfelt prayers of thanksgiving – we can choose some and memorize them; we can practice, with the saints, the spiritual discipline of intentionally expressing gratitude. Here’s a start: Psalm 9:1, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 95:2-3, Psalm 100:4.
  3. Become ‘sense-full’. We can notice the goodness of something we see, hear, smell, taste and feel everyday.
  4. Remember. Two primary obstacles to gratefulness are forgetfulness and a lack of awareness (Emmons, 2016). What we could do is surround ourselves with visual reminders of the things for which we are grateful for: photos, word clouds, post-it notes, reminders on our phone- whatever helps us remember our vow to practice gratitude.
  5. Say it! We can speak the language of gratitude. We can say thank you often and speak of the good we are aware of- the beauty we experience and benefit we enjoy because of other people in our life. Tell and re-tell stories of gratitude.
  6. Do it anyway! We can’t wait for an emotion of gratitude to overtake us before we practice it. Smiling, speaking the language of gratitude, writing about it will kick-start our brain into a thankful mindset.
  7. Be creative. Let’s stretch our gratitude muscles- consider and try new and creative ways to express our gratefulness. Enjoy!

Everyone of us who are alive in Christ have so much to be genuinely grateful for each day; let’s not miss today’s opportunity to experience gratitude!

Originally published in March 2016 by Cindy Schmelzenbach, Regional Member Care Coordinator

More on Gratitude:

Emmons, Robert. (2016) What is Gratitude? – what_is

Seligman, Martin. (2004) TedTalk file://localhost/Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life http/ – what_is

Voskamp, Ann. (2010). One Thousand Gifts.

Holmes, Lindsey. (2013) 7 Habits of Grateful People