Good reasons to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving

outloud title bar[notice]A new, monthly column by Vivienne Solomons who is a legal consultant who passionately believes that God wants His people to make a difference right where they are and to stand up for what is true and just. She is also passionate about encouraging young women to walk victoriously with God and she is engaged in a challenging faith journey as a parent of a child with special needs.[/notice]

thankyousunflowerOur American and Canadian friends have just recently celebrated Thanksgiving Day, which they do on the last Thursday in November every year. Although for some it may now be just another holiday or simply a good reason to eat a lavish meal, the real meaning behind this historic Christian tradition dating back almost 400 years, is to give thanks to Almighty God for His blessings and provision throughout the year.  

While I try to cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude’ on a daily basis, this annual holiday towards the end of the calendar year serves as my check-in; an opportunity to consider the state of my heart in the context of the year’s events. And this year is no different. Although it has been a particularly challenging one for us as a family, I cannot deny the fact that there is still so much that I have to be grateful for.

Interestingly, there are many benefits to cultivating an attitude of gratitude. For more than a decade, Robert Emmons of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley studied the effects of gratitude on physical health, on psychological well being, and on our relationships with others. He noted that people who practise gratitude report the following benefits:

Stronger immune systems
Less bothered by aches and pains
Lower blood pressure
Exercise more and take better care of their health
Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Higher levels of positive emotions
More alert, alive and awake
More joy and pleasure
More optimism and happiness

More helpful, generous and compassionate
More forgiving
More outgoing
Feel less lonely and isolated

I particularly like Emmons’ definition of gratitude, which has two components: The first, is that it is an affirmation of goodness. In other words, despite all that we might find wrong with our ‘world’, and the world around us, when we look at our lives as a whole, gratitude helps us to identify the goodness in it.

The second, and perhaps most important part, is determining from where that goodness arises. We have to recognise that the source of goodness is outside of ourselves, and doesn’t come from anything we can do ourselves. True gratitude involves a humble dependence on others and, for those of us who are spiritually minded, even a higher power, who helps us achieve the goodness in our lives.

It is little wonder then that the Word of God encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances and that “thanksgiving” is given significant mention throughout its chapters. Giving thanks to God gives us a divine perspective and allows us to objectively “take stock” of our day, our week, our year and indeed, our lives. More than this, it also connects us with the Giver of life and all good gifts.

So how do we go beyond feeling occasionally grateful to cultivating a heart of gratitude? Emmons suggests that we do the following:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal where we list just five things we are grateful for on a weekly basis;
  2. Practise counting our blessings on a daily basis, without writing them down on paper;
  3. Find ways to make a difference in the lives of those around us who are less fortunate; and
  4. Be grateful for what we can give as well as what we receive.

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