Gratitude is Great Medicine
Gratitude is Great Medicine
“In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Thanksgiving has come and gone. For some, the time to be grateful will come again next year. For me every day is Thanksgiving. There is a lot of empirical research that shows being constantly grateful is a better way to live.
My appreciation for gratitude goes back many years when I went to Haiti to report on the work of a missionary organization. From the moment I arrived my senses were overwhelmed by the contrasts between my American culture and the culture of Haiti. The thing that caught me off guard was the gratitude of Haitians.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of poorest anywhere in the world. I met a relief worker there who had spent two decades in Africa. He said he had never seen a place in all of Africa that was more deprived than Haiti.
Yet, there in the midst of unspeakable poverty and human misery, everywhere I turned there were signs that proclaimed the goodness of God. The streets were packed with mini-pickups whose boxes were packed to overflowing with people.
Emblazoned on the front of every pickup was a declaration of gratitude:
- God is good!
- Praise God!
- God saves!
- And more.
People everywhere declared: “God is good!
In a Spartan but spotless hospice facility run by women who belonged to the religious order founded by Mother Teresa, the delightful sisters and their smiling patients declared it repeatedly. God is good!
At first, I thought these people were crazy to declare “God is good” when everywhere people starved, died young or woke to days of little hope. Gradually I came to see that when one’s bounty is scarce, it’s not hard to appreciate the little things – starting with life itself.
In Haiti if you awake in the morning, God has given you a chance to find water. And if you find water, God has given you a few days to find food. And if you find food, God has blessed you and your loved ones with the assurances of many more days to come.
When life hangs in the balance every day, one does not take life for granted. Entitlement is not a problem for the Haitians . All is grace!
When I got home, I was different.
In those days my wife Jane got the kids ready for school while I would take them to school and then go to work. On this day they were rambunctious, and she called to me to help her settle them down.
I found myself thanking God that they were healthy enough to fight. In Haiti I had seen so many children, listless from malnutrition. I couldn’t help being grateful for my well-nourished, healthy crew – even if it manifested itself as chaos.
Later my wife, who handles all our money, called to say that when she stopped for gas, the owner told her that we needed four new tires.
For budgeting, we generally bought two tires at a time. Now we needed four. It was a huge unbudgeted expense and she was troubled. “Can we do it?” I asked.
“Well, we can use our credit card and pay it off over time,” said my wife who scrupulously avoided credit card balances.
“Thank God,” I said.
There I was, a changed man. Pope John Paul II had insisted, “The poor will evangelize the rich.” I realized he was right.
Remember Haiti is not the world’s exception but its rule. The chance that the next person born into the world will be born into misery like that in Haiti is much betterthan being born into comfort in the First World.
Under the circumstances, it should be easy to be grateful in our society – but it’s not.
Why? Because we are taught to be ungrateful. We are taught to focus on wanting and getting more. I’m told that the average adult hears 4,000 - 10,000 commercials a day. Our minds are swamped with messages to want more.
Author Rodney Clapp says we have gone from the sanctification of choice at the start of the consumer age to the deification of dissatisfaction today. We have made a god of being dissatisfied with what we have as the basis for wanting more.
We are drowning in messages that tell us that to improve our lives we must get more.
This is true even though we have research that says getting more will not get us happiness. Acquiring new stuff will make us feel good for a short time. Then our lives are empty again – until we crave more and we indulge our craving. If we want to be grateful, we have to make time for it.
It is absolutely worth your effort to make time to be grateful! Research has shown that when we are frequently and intentionally grateful, we experience:
- Improved physical, emotional, and social well-being;
- Greater optimism and happiness;
- Improved feelings of connection;
- Increased self-esteem;
- Strengthened heart, immune system, and decreased blood pressure;
- Improved emotional and academic intelligence;
- Expanded capacity for forgiveness;
- Decreased stress, anxiety, depression, and headaches;
- Heightened spirituality – the ability to see something bigger than ourselves.
The good news is that gratitude can be cultivated. Start by keeping a gratitude journal. Allow 10 minutes weekly, sit din a comfortable place and write whatever you are grateful for. Or, take a few minutes each day to jot down three things for which you are grateful. They don’t have to be big. Maybe a sunrise, or a good cup of coffee, made better with the company of a friend. The knowledge that someone loves you. Or maybe a TV program you enjoyed.
What else can you do?
- Make a habit of 2-5 minute "gratitude meditations."
- Say thank you often -- particularly to those who serve you!
- Write a letter of thanks to someone who has made a difference in your life and deliver it if possible.
- Express gratitude at meals alone or with loved ones.
- Express or show gratitude to your family.
- Think about what you are grateful for daily.
Last thought – pray
One last thought – especially valuable, for those of us who are really, really busy. If you want to become a more grateful – and happy – person, consider making it a point to express your gratitude whenyou pray.
Surveys say 72% of us pray at least daily. If you’re among that 72%, be sure to say prayers of gratitude along with your prayers of petition – you know, your “gimme prayers.”
Every day I pray: “Thank you, Lord, for this day and for my dear wife Jane.”
How do you express gratitude?
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