A Swiss doctor Paul Tournier said that health depends to a large extent on the mental attitude and spiritual condition of a person. Gratitude contributes to the mental, physical and spiritual attitudes of an individual. It is the quality of being thankful for some kindness shown or some gift received from another person. When someone unconditionally performs an act of kindness without expecting anything in return, gratitude from the recipient shows that the act of kindness has been acknowledged and appreciated. It is a positive response and a deeper recognition that go beyond merely saying ‘Thank You.’ Gratitude differs from indebtedness which involves an obligation to repay the kindness shown.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” says William Arthur Ward.
We know how good it feels when someone says ‘Thank You’ to us.
Gratitude has become an important part of Positive Psychology Research. It has been shown to increase physical health and well being. It makes a person happy, self controlled and optimistic. It helps maintain cordial relationships. Researchers have shown that an MRI taken during an attitude of gratitude shows increased activity in the areas of the brain that deal with morality, rewards and value judgments. There is a reduction in the stress hormone Cortisol during that period. Grateful people enhance their own personal growth and have positive ways of coping with difficulties. They are happy people with lower levels of stress. They are generous and ready to help other people. Social scientists believe that Gratitude is the new “Self Help Movement” that will be popular in 2019.
The systematic study of Gratitude began in 2000. But long before this Cicero and Seneca said that gratitude is an important virtue that formed the foundation of civilization.
Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”
Spirituality and Gratitude is another popular subject of study. Prayers in every religion begin their worship with thanks to God. Islam requires its followers to pray five times a day and thank God for his goodness.
Martin Luther said “Gratitude is the basic Christian tenet.” It is the heart of the gospel. We acknowledge God’s generosity in giving us eternal life through the gift of His son Jesus Christ who died for us. It inspires Christians to shape their thoughts, attitudes and behavior around the concept of sacrifice. The word Eucharist is from the Greek ‘Eucharista’ meaning thankfulness.
The practice of gratefulness to God in prayer can be imbibed from childhood. The story is told of a little girl who went for breakfast with her parents to a small cafeteria. The people at the other tables looked silent and morose. The little girl asked, “Why not we say our prayers here?”
The waitress said “Why not?”
So the girl prayed, “God is great and God is good. Now we thank you for our food. Amen.”
This changed the frame of mind of the others in the cafe. One morose man later said, “I started thanking God for all that I have. I started to be grateful and it changed my whole attitude to life.”
But can we be grateful when life is difficult and everything seems to go wrong? Even in the midst of our problems there is always something to be grateful for. Unfortunately the more we have the less gratitude we feel. Phillip Yancy said, “We usually express our gratitude to God by asking for more.”
In 1600, during the 30-year war in Germany, Plague devastated the population. A Lutheran pastor Martin Rhinkhart lost 8000 parishioners including his wife and child. But in spite of his great sorrow, he expressed his gratitude to God in a hymn which says, “Now thank we all our God…..with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us.” What magnificent faith!
Sometimes tragedy and suffering help people to come closer to God. Joni Erickson Tada was paralyzed after a diving accident. At first it was impossible to reconcile her troubles with her belief in a loving God. Her change was gradual. It took three whole years to bring her to a healthy dependence on God and to thank Him for His grace in steering her through a period of darkness. It seems like a paradox that enduring trials can be grateful to God. But she turned her tragedy into triumph and spiritual victory. She is a worthy model to those going through pain and suffering.
The Pilgrim Fathers had lost half their members and almost all their possessions on the voyage to America. But when they reached there, they knelt down on American soil and thanked God for their deliverance, even though they had no idea what the future held for them.
After the National Civil War ended Abraham Lincoln thanked God even though people had died in numbers and others struggled for survival. He was responsible for the first Thanksgiving Day which all Americans celebrate with gusto today.
Goodness is the dominant attitude of God and this is the basis for our thanksgiving and gratitude to Him. Being thankful increases our personal relationship with Him. We need to begin our day by ‘entering His courts with thanksgiving and praise. The chronicler in the Old Testament records how the people burst into joy and thanksgiving over small triumphs. They emphasized their gratitude in song. But this gratitude to God must be accompanied by a spirit of worship and a spirit of joy, not merely in words but in our attitude and our desire to serve others.
Gratitude does not come naturally to human beings. Man is by nature ungrateful Many people think there is no reason to be grateful all the time because we are getting only what we deserve. Why thank an employer when we have earned our wages. Why thank our parents? We did not ask to be born. It is their bounden duty to look after and provide for their children that they have brought into the world. I read somewhere about a boy who was given an apple by a kind neighbor. He grabbed the apple from the man’s hand and greedily bit into it. His mother who wanted to correct him asked, “What must you say?” The boy threw the apple back at the neighbor and said, “Peel it for me.” One wonders what kind of man he would have grown into. Obviously he had never learnt about politeness or gratitude in his home. Parents have the responsibility of being good role models.
I am grateful to God for many things in my life. To be made in the image of God and to be honored above other living creatures – what a sense of awe and destiny I feel about myself! He has given me a sense of personal worth and value. And so my gratitude begins with God, and I accept with humility the gift of life He has given me. I thank Him for His unceasing love – a love that is immeasurable by human standards. He is a God who never slumbers or sleeps and watches over me like a loving parent.
I thank God that He has been my strength through the vicissitudes of life. I was widowed at the age of 32, with two small children to support. God was my fortress and strength against depression and self pity. I did not doubt that He had a purpose and plan for what had happened.
I can truly say that I never felt desolate and abandoned, because I felt His abiding presence with me during those dark days. He showed me there was light at the end of the tunnel.
I thank God for my profession as a gynecologist. He provided me with the means and the intelligence to sail through post-graduation, and eventually reach the acme of my career. God has enabled me to use my medical skills to help many women from different walks of life through their health problems.
I am grateful to God for my parents who encouraged me to build an attitude of thankfulness into my daily routine. They nurtured me in a stable family environment and instilled in me qualities of humility, kindness, love, caring and sharing.
I thank Him for my siblings who filled my life with love and laughter, and for friends on whom I can depend for affection and good advice.
Neither money, nor power nor reputation can give a person the spirit of serenity like gratitude does. It is good to be grateful and honor God when we prosper or when we are in trouble, knowing that His tender loving care can soothe us when we are restive. Gratefulness is a cure for dissatisfaction, for adversity and for poverty. As the apostle Paul said, “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thess. 5:18)
Psychologist Robert Emmons says keeping a Gratitude Journal in which to jot down all the positive things that happen every day and thanking God for them, significantly influences our mental and spiritual health. Gratitude involves humility. Focusing on life’s blessings brings positivity. Thankfulness comes naturally when we count our blessings every day. It helps us to be mindful of God’s presence and His provision and care.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. Because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
Eva Bell is a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists. She is a freelance writer, and her articles, short stories and children’s stories have been published in magazines, newspapers, on the Net, and in several anthologies. She is the author of: Novels – “Silver Amulet,” “When Shadows Flee,” “Halo of Deceit.”