Life, in general, is composed of ordinary moments. A daily drive to work, cooking meals for the family, and running errands for a friend are all ordinary. These are events that barely register on the barometer of special occurrences. They do not compare to purchasing a new home, starting college, finding a new job, or traveling to fascinating places of interest. Yet the very ordinary incidents, when reflected upon, provide gracious moments of gratitude. Gratitude is not simply saying “thank you,” it is acknowledging a deep appreciation through action for something that has been done or received. It is also being mindful of the importance of what has occurred, noting the significance in our lives.
Gratitude and thanksgiving go hand in hand. It may be challenging to connect the idea of gifts with the season of Thanksgiving. During this season, many will pause and do an inventory of the past year, a year that caused pain, crushed hearts, and created a new normal. The past few years have been anything but ordinary. There have been trials, tribulations, and torments that have shaped our lives for the future. While some may pause to be grateful, others will find being grateful challenging, if not unnecessary.
This season of giving thinks would be a great opportunity to recognize the benefits of gratitude. Deepak Chopra and others have noted the relationship between gratitude and spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. Entrepreneur, speaker, and author Luis Romero write, “In other words, being grateful is equivalent to feeling the presence of the Divine in our lives. It is the same as being in a state of bliss. It allows us to see value, virtue, and benefit in everything.” The apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians provides a deeper insight: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB). The spiritual practice of gratitude has an impact that reaches further than simply saying, “thank you.” While this gracious act is commendable and has positive implications, the spiritual practice of gratitude extends even further.
Would you engage if there was a remedy for the physical, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual maladies of life that has no negative side effects? Would you be involved in a treatment that required no monetary investment, no out-of-pocket expense, yet proved to provide positive results? Would it be worth your time to spend time participating in a practice that would do nothing except improving your quality of life? This may sound like something too good to be true, and if this came from someone attempting to solicit support for personal gains, it may very well be. However, this extraordinary gift of gratitude is a gift that has been undervalued and neglected.
While the sacred text repeatedly encourages an attitude of gratitude, now science has proven that there are numerous benefits of gratitude. Scientist Imed Bouchrika observes, “Actual scientific studies prove the benefits of gratitude that contribute to an individual’s character development and overall well-being.” Practicing gratitude is linked to physical health benefits, including improved sleep, lower blood pressure, motivation to exercise more, better control of glucose levels, and improved immunity, to name a few. Studies have also found mental, psychological, and spiritual health benefits of gratitude, including increased self-confidence, resilience, optimism, and patience.
Nurturing an attitude of gratitude during this pandemic era can be challenging, as fear and uncertainty lingers in the atmosphere. Physicians suggest that it is vital to pay attention to our physical health and our mental well-being. The practice of gratitude is just as important as boosting the immune system with vitamins, vaccines, and proper nutrition.
Gratitude is a gift of palpable potential; it has been used to redirect individuals dealing with depression and low self-esteem. The practice is relatively easy to start. One can start by listing three things that you are grateful for. These can be written down daily in a journal. Gratitude journals can be found in bookstores or online. It can be helpful for young adults and children to begin nurturing this practice. As stated previously, it develops character and overall well-being. There is value and virtue in gratitude.
According to Robert Emmons, a leading expert in the study of gratitude, one of gratitude’s salient values is it amplifies positive emotions. Unfortunately, many studies indicate that human beings have a propensity toward focusing on, and reacting to, negativity. Yet, as Bouchrika reports, studies suggest that nurturing the practice of gratitude increases dopamine. Dopamine is a natural hormone generated in the brain when we feel good. It is commonly called the feel-good hormone. When we receive praise, dopamine levels increase. The same is true when we are rewarded. Gratitude is a reciprocal reward. As we give thanks, we can also reflect on how thankful we are. This adds value to life.
As we move into this season of Thanksgiving, perhaps it may be of value to begin this spiritual practice of gratitude and continue it as a part of life. While it may be challenging to be thankful when life appears to be alarmingly dreadful, the gift is seeing beyond those frightful experiences. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 challenges us because it encourages gratitude “in everything…” Spiritual maturation comes when we are able to be grateful “in everything.” In the worst moments of life, we have the opportunity to practice gratitude. It is in these moments spiritual growth happens. The effect of spiritual growth from gratitude is resilience—the ability to persevere or bounce back from challenging circumstances. Perhaps it is God’s will that resilience is built on the foundation of gratitude.
Gratitude as a daily practice accentuates the best in life and shapes the human spirit to be more mindful of life and focus more on the positive. As we struggle with the rising tide of mental health challenges, gratitude is an extraordinary gift that has the capacity to calm the rising tide. To be effective, it has to be a daily practice beyond the day of Thanksgiving. Perhaps this season of thanksgiving, we can share the gift of gratitude and consciously, consistently apply this undervalued spiritual practice to our lives.
Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson is pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, Endicott, New York.
Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash