During my college years, my faith was heavily influenced by a little book entitled, Agaperos, written by Grady Nutt. In that book, as in his sermons, Grady emphasized the importance of choosing “an attitude of gratitude.”
Many of us will be privileged to gather on Thanksgiving Day with family and friends to enjoy a bountiful feast and hearty conversations around the table. As one of our treasured holidays, Thanksgiving is a day set aside, not only to give thanks, but to rekindle in us a spirit of gratitude. In I Thessalonians 5: 16-18, Paul encourages believers to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Elie Wiesel contended that, “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.”
Experiencing and expressing gratitude throughout the ever-changing seasons of life has a way of re-shaping our perspective and re-formatting our attitude. In my journey of faith, I am discovering that a disposition of gratitude enriches life in several ways.
First, When I am frustrated and tend to see the glass half empty rather than half full, I find that the practice of “counting my blessings” infuses me with encouragement, and that encouragement spills over into the lives of others. Gratitude has a way of refocusing my attention on the positive and reminding me of how blessed I am.
Gratitude also promotes good health. That does not mean that gratitude brings instantaneous healing, nor does it make us immune from viruses or exempt from accidents. But a heart of gratitude promotes spiritual, emotional, and physical health in at least a couple of ways. First, gratitude serves as the antidote for toxic negativity and complaint, cleansing our perspective and renewing our focus. And second, gratitude seems to put us in a positive frame of mind which allows our body to better produce and release antibodies and restorative enzymes that work to promote health and wholeness.
A study of the psychology of gratitude is found in Robert Emmons’ book, Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. In his research at the University of California-Berkeley, Dr. Emmons found that those who practice grateful thinking “reap emotional, physical and interpersonal benefits.” The study revealed that individuals who regularly keep a gratitude journal report fewer illness symptoms, generally feel better about their lives as a whole, and are more optimistic about the future. This led Dr. Emmons to conclude that gratitude is both a personal choice and healthy response to our life experiences.
Gratitude ultimately inspires me to serve. Gratitude is not about counting my blessings just to make me a happier consumer. Genuine gratitude motivates me to share my blessings. For me, the quality of life is best measured, not by how much I have, but how effectively I use resources I have been given to serve. Those who serve out of guilt serve for a short while. Those who serve out of gratitude serve for a lifetime.
Choosing an attitude of gratitude is a daily discipline that enriches life. Henri Nouwen wrote, “The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”
With good reason, the scripture encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Although we do not always get to choose our circumstances, we can always choose our attitude. Not just today, but every day, cultivate an attitude of gratitude.