Importance of Gratefulness in Our Times – and at All Times
For the challenging times that the whole world is finding itself in with the pandemic and the associated fallout of restrictions, economic woes, losses, unhappiness, mental illness, depression, suicides, addictions, abuse, natural disasters, and more, gratefulness can be a powerful antidote and help us better cope with our individual circumstances.
Paul counsels the church in Ephesus: …. always giving thanks to God the Father for everything. (Eph 5:20). Note the words “always” – all the time – and “for everything” – under all circumstances, not just the good things that come to us. Why are we to do this? Gratitude / gratefulness is good for us in many ways.
Benefits of Gratitude and Gratefulness
A growing body of research proves what sages and enlightened folks like poet William Blake have advised through the ages: “The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” That harvest can include better health and happiness, higher self-esteem, greater resiliency, deeper relationships, and increased longevity.
And taking the time to write about the things you appreciate in your life can help in specific ways:
- Organ recipients who kept gratitude journals scored better on measures of mental health and general well-being than those who only kept routine notes about their days. (University of California, Davis and Mississippi University for Women).
- Patients with asymptomatic heart failure who journaled experienced better mood, better sleep, less fatigue, and less inflammation. (University of California, San Diego). “It seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart, and that gratitude journaling is an easy way to support cardiac health,” said lead author Paul J. Mills, Ph.D.
- Couples who recorded their feelings of appreciation for their partner’s actions boosted happiness, romance, and satisfaction in their relationships (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of California, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles). “The little things may make a big difference within the daily lives of individuals in romantic relationships. Gratitude may help to turn ‘ordinary’ moments into opportunities for relationship growth, even in the context of already close, communal relations,” noted the authors.
As a personal aside, my husband and I have gotten into a pattern of thanking each other for the various things we each do, including the mundane ones, like doing the dishes, preparing a meal or drink, vacuuming, etc. He is very good that way, so I feel really blessed in being appreciated.
Creating Gratitude and Gratefulness
Gratitude is both an inward and outward expression of positive feeling and emotion. When expressed inward, gratitude generates growing feelings of expansion that increase your inclination and ability to extend loving-kindness to others.
A key is focusing on a positive emotion to create more of the emotion. Whether you choose to think of something good in your life that happened an hour ago, yesterday, last year, or during childhood does not matter; your attention creates more of the emotion now, in the present moment. It is a now experience, and you reap the beneficial effects of the expanded energy.
You always get more of what you reinforce. Any time you purposefully spend on gratitude will augment that energy within you, stimulating “feel good” hormones and neurochemicals in your body that benefit you on every level—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
If you have no daily gratitude practice already, start one today. Here are a few tips for using a journal:
- Devote at least a few minutes each day to reflect and write about what you are thankful for.
- Write in your journal any time of day. If you have sleep issues, do it right before you go to bed, because studies show it can actually help you sleep better. Keep your journal on your nightstand as a gentle reminder.
- Simply list five or ten things you are grateful for. However, reflect and write about as much as you feel inspired to. Then notice what shows up for you!
If you find that this kind of journaling doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, make it a practice to thank God for His blessings in your morning and evening prayers and throughout the day. Even during trying times that occur in an ongoing way or just crop up, look for things to be grateful for – the fact that the situation is not worse, the help you have been given, the answered prayers, etc. In other words, look for the things that are good in the midst of the trials and be grateful for those. And that brings me to the next point – the difference between gratefulness and gratitude.
Difference between Gratefulness and Gratitude
It can be relatively easy to hold an “attitude of gratitude” when we have what we need, get what we want, and inventory happy occurrences in our journals at the end of a day. It is quite another proposition to still feel grateful when life brings us and others circumstances none of us would willingly choose. We are assured to encounter all kinds of moments in life. The challenge is – and always has been – to be grateful especially when life does not deliver on hopes, expectations, and most especially on fairness.
While gratitude may serve us well when the weather is good, the meal is great, the company enthralling, and the body does what we want it to do, gratefulness helps us remember to be grateful for the ability to simply breathe (it won’t always be so), to feel anything and everything (better than the alternative), and to be alive in this very moment (not everyone who expected to be here today still is).
Noticing the gifts already in our lives, taking fewer of our privileges for granted, actively appreciating what we value, acknowledging impermanence, seeing opportunities in challenges, and embracing the great fullness of life are some of the domains of the moment-to-moment practice of gratefulness. In these ways, gratefulness fosters happiness and joy irrespective of circumstances. In addition, in recognizing our interconnection with all humans and everything on our planet, gratefulness extends to our shared needs, experiences, vulnerabilities, as well as joys and sorrows. In a state of being grateful, we are awakened to greater empathy, generosity, and concern for the well-being of all.
Positive thinking says the glass is half full. Dour thinking says it is half empty. Gratitude helps us to better enjoy whatever is in the glass. But gratefulness can help us focus more intently on the radical fact of having a glass at all, making the most of the glass we have, and on ensuring that those around us have a glass as well.
Three cheers for the limits of gratitude – they may point us to a more meaningfully grateful way of being, and cheering.
Gratefulness in the Face of Unimaginable Suffering
The following is written by Immaculée Ilibagiza, who was born in Rwanda where she lost most of her family during the 1994 genocide. Four years later, she emigrated to the United States and began working at the United Nations in New York City. She is now a full-time motivational public speaker and writer.
I never really thought much about happiness until I came to live in America. In Rwanda, in the poor area where I grew up, most people were happy just having enough food to spare their family from starvation. I guess that’s why I always assumed that people who lived in rich countries, where everyone had so much of everything, would be happy all of the time. But when I left Rwanda and began traveling, I realized this wasn’t true, and that so many people I met in Europe and America weren’t happy at all. That’s when I started wondering about what true happiness really is, and how we can all find it and make it a part of our lives.
When I was growing up, I was taught we must always be grateful and thank God for the good things we had. I was told, we must always find something to thank God for, even in bad times. For me, this became an especially valuable lesson during the genocide when I found myself hiding for my life in a tiny bathroom for three months with seven other women. During those terrible weeks, killers were constantly hunting for us, our families were being murdered, we existed in a state of constant terror. It was a nightmare and it seemed impossible to find anything good to thank God for.
I remember thinking, “this is hell, there is nothing good left in the world—I have nothing to thank God for.” And yet somehow, the more dire and hopeless the situation became, the more I prayed…and the more I prayed, the deeper I searched within myself for something I could thank God for.
At first I could find nothing to give thanks for, but slowly I became aware of the blessings I had in my life — blessings like little candles of hope, began to lighten the darkness surrounding me. For instance, there was the kindness of the man who was hiding us, a man risking his own life to save us. And there was the rosary my father gave to me as a parting gift when he sent me into hiding; a precious gift that helped me to pray during the darkest hours of my life. And there was also the company of the ladies who were hiding with me.
I found myself becoming incredibly grateful for all these little blessings God had given me, and that gratitude became a deep and powerful reason for me to give thanks to Him each and every time I prayed. The more I found something to be grateful for, the lighter my heart became. And despite the anger, hatred, fear, and bloodshed that surrounded me, I began experiencing moments of real happiness.
Too often we assume someone is happy because we see them dressed in fine clothing, wearing expensive jewelry, driving a fancy car, working at a high-paying job, or living in a big, beautiful home. And too often we think that if only we had those nice things in our own life, or had that much money, then we’d be happy too. But the truth is, happiness is only found when our hearts can be GRATEFUL for all the things God has blessed us with, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to us. And yes, you can always find something to be grateful for, no matter how hard life gets at times or how difficult a situation may be. We become happy when we are grateful.
Being grateful doesn’t mean that you are grateful for everything – wars, tragedies, hunger, dishonesty, unfaithfulness etc…but it means, you can choose to look at what to be grateful about in every moment and the more you look, the more you can find, and it will bring you joy and make you happy.
I challenge you all to spend a few moments thinking about all the wonderful things in your life that you may sometimes take for granted — your friends, family members, random acts of kindness, a stranger’s smile, the warmth of the sun, the wind and air you breath etc… Decide to see a gift in every moment – you will be really HAPPY. Don’t waste time dwelling on the problems or chaos around you, unless you are trying to resolve the situation. Complaining drains your spirit and energy, while gratitude fills you with life and opens your heart to true happiness and joy.
Blessings to you,
(Read this article, and many more here.)
Gratefulness in the Present Times
Returning to where we started, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” (Eph 5:20), we are reminded that no matter what happens, there is never a time not to give thanks to God. The physical circumstances may not be the best, but thankfulness is always warranted for spiritual blessings, including the Divine Love, the progress, however small, we are making on the spiritual path, the purpose we have in this life and the wonderful beyond description future we can look forward to beyond this life.
This life is fleeting, and present and future trials and hardships will fade into insignificance if in the here and now we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness through soul transformation by the Divine Love.
Here are a few more biblical admonitions and promises:
Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, 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.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 – We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. [give thanks for one another and our collective spiritual growth].
Colossians 3:12-16 – Therefore, as [God’s children on the Divine Love path], holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ [regarding God’s Divine Love] dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
To conclude, pray, give thanks for, and focus on what is most important for the most wonderful outcome.
Ephesians 1:16-19 – I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened [prayer for increased soul perceptions] in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance [Celestial Kingdom] in the saints, and his incomparably great power [Divine Love that transforms our souls from divine image to divine substance and mortal to immortal] for us who believe.
Ephesians 3:16-21 – I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [soul growth and soul perceptions through Divine Love] so that Christ [Divine Love] may dwell in your hearts through faith. [Divine Love in the soul] And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. [all Divine Love here]
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us [this is awesome!], to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Eva Peck, 2020
Header image: Marcos Paulo Prado from Unsplash.com