PREVENTION magazine calls it Vitamin G. Gratitude actually makes our bodies and minds work better. “Studies have linked living a thankful life to fewer aches and pains, better sleep, and more.”
There can be a significant difference between the “thank you” of a child, prompted by his parent in response to an unexciting gift; and gratitude, which wells up when we receive something unexpected, delightful, unearned. When my husband washes the pots and pans after I’ve made dinner, I thank him. But I am also grateful for his thoughtful partnering with me. So, I can be both grateful and thankful (which is the expression of gratitude), or I can be thankful without being grateful. Gratitude is from the heart.
Robert Emmons, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and author of The Little Book of Gratitude said “Gratitude is affirming the goodness in one’s life and recognizing that its source lies outside the self.” In a study he found that keeping a gratitude journal for only five minutes a day can increase your happiness by at least 10%. Emmons says, “The sense of well-being that washes over us in our gratitude tells our bodies all is well…Feelings of gratitude trigger the parasympathetic, or calming, branch of the nervous system.”
A research study completed after the 9/11 attack reflected that gratitude played a key role in building resilience among the survivors.
Practicing gratitude makes us more optimistic and giving. It reduces materialism and improves our relationships (can you imagine the difference between argumentative spouses and those who affirm their gratitude for each other?). It increases our social support by attracting more people to us. Gratitude improves work performance and satisfaction, and improves our mental and physical health. That’s quite a list!
Psychologist Martin Seligman asked 411 people to write a letter of gratitude to a person from their life who deserved it–and to deliver the letter personally. Those who followed through felt increased happiness and self-satisfaction, effects which lasted for a whole month. Think of it–a letter a month with quite an ROI!
Tim Wood, our pastor, challenged us yesterday to “Magnify our blessings and not our problems!” What a great way to develop an ‘attitude of gratitude’.
Israel’s King David was a man who expressed gratitude, along with his troubles (and they were many!). When the Israelites tried to bring the Ark of God back to Jerusalem, they did not follow God’s explicit directions on how to carry it. As a consequence, one man died. Fearing the power of the Ark, David refused to take it to Jerusalem but rather left it at the home of a man named Obed-Edom. During the three months it remained there, Obed-Edom’s family was greatly blessed by God (II Samuel 6:9-12).
When David heard about the blessings Obed-Edom experienced, he decided to bring the Ark to Jerusalem after all. He had learned how God wanted it transported, and his men brought the Ark to the capital city with great rejoicing. David brought together singers, dancers, trumpeters, lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals to accompany the Ark. And David danced before God.
I can make a long list of what I’m grateful for.
- A loving husband
- A loving and supportive family
- Grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and greats, and the fun of watching them grow
- Our sweet Paigey
- The beauty of the incredible fall colors we see in the trees around us, and in the soft leafy carpets of those red, yellow, orange and gold leaves that have fallen to the ground
- A sunset walk around the pond in our community
- A sunshiny day with billowing clouds in a cerulean sky
- Decaf, sugar-free vanilla lattes
- Friends and neighbors we care about
- Our church family
- A nation where we can still worship God freely
- Prayer support
- Our home
- Some of the difficulties I’ve experienced in life, because God brought me through them to a new place.
But my deepest gratitude wells up inside me when I think of God’s mercy,extended to me. Merriam-Webster defines mercy as
- a. compassion or forbearance (see FORBEARANCE sense 1) shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power
- also : lenient or compassionate treatment
begged for mercy
- b: imprisonment rather than death imposed as penalty for first-degree murder
I am a sinner, in a relationship with the God of the universe only by God’s mercy and grace (“unmerited favor”), through the death and resurrection of His Son.
David wanted to build a magnificent Temple to God. God told him he was not to build it because he was a warrior and had shed blood; but his son, Solomon, would build the Temple. Under God’s direction, David made very detailed plans for the Temple–its porticos, beams, altar, size, courtyard, the Holy of Holies. He stored supplies for the building project–gold, silver, bronze, iron and wood, as well as onyx for the settings, turquoise, stones of various colors, and all kinds of fine stone and marble, in large quantities. Then David told his people that “in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple: three thousand talents of gold (gold of Ophir) and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for the overlaying of the walls of the buildings, for the gold work and the silver work, and for all the work to be done by the craftsmen.” (I Chronicles 29:3-5)
Then he invited the people to join him in giving to the Temple treasury, and they gave “freely and wholeheartedly” from their own supplies.
Afterward, David called an assembly of the people and praised God publicly, saying
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope...I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.” (I Chronicles 29:14-15,17-18)
His gratitude overwhelmed him from inside out, because he recognized that the mercy, grace and blessing of God were worth far more than the gold and silver and precious stones he had. God’s mercy had covered him, protected him, blessed and led him through years of running from King Saul, who was threatened by David and tried multiple times to kill him. God had kept his Word that David would be King.
So how does this apply to me?
- I’ll start a gratitude journal.
- I’ll meditate on gratitude to God and to others I love.
- I’ll make it a point to express my gratitude, both to God and those who impact my life, letting them know how grateful I am for their presence in my life.