One for the Record Books
2020 has been a thankfulness-stealer year for many of us. It feels as though a thief has come and rampaged through our lives leaving us hopeless and gasping for breath.
Now, with the holidays here, many of us have been forced to radically change or cancel cherished gatherings because of social distancing mandates. Faced with such dismally disappointing days, it’s easy to find little to be thankful for at a time we traditionally count our blessings.
As if COVID-19 didn’t make things bad enough, for many this time of year is tinged with sadness, anxiety or depression. Research and Scripture suggest one aspect of the season can actually lift our spirits, and it's built right into the holiday — expressing gratitude.
The word "gratitude" is derived from the Latin word "gratia," which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what we receive, whether tangible or intangible.
Psalm 9:1 says, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds” (ESV). This practice of gratitude is emphasized in numerous places throughout Scripture.
Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miamihave done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.
One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them. The third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative).
After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
I think it is important to note that studies such as this cannot prove cause and effect. But most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual's well-being.
Gratitude is a way for us to appreciate what we have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make us happier or thinking we can't feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps us refocus on what we have instead of what we lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.
5 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude
- Write a thank-you note. You can boost your spirits and nurture relationships with others by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation for another person’s impact on your life. Send it — or, better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
- Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you and mentally thank the individual.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you've received each day.
- Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
- Pray. Prayer is a powerful tool to cultivate gratitude. Slow down a little today. Keep your eyes open. Look around you, look up, look into the eyes of the people you pass, look at the grass growing or the flowers blooming or the autumn leaves falling. Take time to notice and appreciate the beauty of the world around you, and take a few extra moments to give thanks to God. You’ll be surprised how gratitude can change your whole perspective on life and give you reason upon reason to praise the Creator of it all.
Every morning when I walk, I pass a stately walnut tree. Through the seasons, I’ve watched it bud, turn green, blossom, bear fruit, and, now in the fall, drop those big beautiful leaves.
The tree serves as a visual reminder for me to practice gratitude. Its shapely branches form a striking silhouette against the sky, a thing of beauty that is ever changing no matter the season.
This morning, I thanked God for giving me beauty in nature and the people around me. Yes, 2020 has been and continues to be deeply troubling, and yet I know the One who created that tree also created me and cares about what I am going through today, tomorrow and into the future.
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” Psalm 9:1 (ESV)
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:3 (ESV)