The health benefits of an attitude of gratitude have been a headliner in the field of positive psychology research for at least a decade. Being grateful or thankful, however, has it’s roots back as far as time. From Genesis right on through the Bible, thankfulness is intertwined with so much of our Christian life — an indispensable virtue to our well-being.
The field of science was just a little slower at getting on board with the concept. But when they did, they pulled out some very encouraging research results. In general, people who practiced gratitude were happier, more energetic, built more stable relationships, had stronger immune systems, slept better, experienced more positive emotions, dealt better with adversity, and were more kind and compassionate. That’s a big return on a relatively small investment. That investment being a concerted, consistent effort of just noticing and appreciating good things.
Here’s some more encouraging news. If you’re not a particularly grateful person, it turns out that gratefulness is a fairly easy character trait to cultivate. And this is my favorite part: when we practice being thankful and grateful we actually develop those areas of the brain that generate positive feelings. Who couldn’t use some of that!
So, what’s a simple way to practice gratitude? Writing in a gratitude journal is one way to take note of the pleasant, good, enjoyable, beautiful, positive things we experience each day. All you need is something to write on (by hand or electronically) and a few moments to dig into your memory bank for some things you are grateful for. And this is important — choose things that are truly meaningful to you. When we take this brief time out to notice small acts of kindness, appreciate the beauty of nature, savor a special moment with someone — and are thankful — we become more likely to seek out the positives in life.
Try it for yourself. For me, I like to journal so I always have some kind of journal handy. I date the page and number it 1-5. I try to write 5 things I’m grateful for. I don’t always come up with 5 but it gives me a goal. Think: quality over quantity. I keep each item brief, just a few words that capture something that causes me to be grateful. Consistency is important but every day isn’t necessary. Once or twice a week works, too.
Here’s one of my days. I’m grateful for: 1. Moss ivy growing on wet rocks 2. Clean sheets on my bed 3. God’s mercy 4. Ice water 5. My women’s Bible study group
As Robert Emmons, professor of psychology and a pioneer in gratitude research says, “It’s as if we need to give thanks…” Yes, Dr. Emmons, that would be exactly how God planned it!