My favorite spiritual discipline is gratitude. I recently searched my blog and found nine posts on gratitude! I decided that one or two more wouldn’t hurt. If invoked consistently, gratitude cancels out some of the ugliest non-loving behaviors I routinely come up with: grumpiness, self-pity, negativity, selfishness, and being critical.
Part 1 – The Blessings of Gratitude
Looong ago, I was a race-walker! If you have a hard time believing that, it’s even more difficult for me to believe. A friend and I decided to exercise together; she had become interested in race-walking. So . . . we took a class (deciding that the rolling waddle of a race walker didn’t fit our images as an Executive Director and banker) and started training using the suggestions from the class. After walking every day for several weeks we were walking faster and faster.
It took a long time to increase our speed while still breathing comfortably, but eventually we got good enough to enter local competitions. And in one of those I went home with a first place ribbon for my age group. (To be really honest, there were only about 6 people competing in my age group, but I was still proud of my ribbon).
I thought of that experience recently as I read the book Finding Quiet, My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices that Brought Peace, by J. P Moreland. Moreland, a philosopher and disciple (and good friend) of Dallas Willard. The book is helpful on so many levels, but I was really taken with his chapter on “cultivating a disposition of gratefulness.” What follows in these two posts are lessons on daily training to be grateful.
Moreland begins by quoting Robert Emmons, a leading authority on the study of gratitude:
Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait – more so than even optimism, hope, or compassion. Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness sand optimism, and gratitude protects us from the de-structive impulses of envy, resentment, greed and bitterness.
My goal when I was training for race walking was simple: develop the form and stamina so I could walk faster. Moreland also begins his “training manual” for gratitude by setting a goal: “to get to the place where we see everything that comes into our lives . . . . as an occasion for formation and growth.” Then we can engage in exercises which help “groove” our brains and character to “take a stance of gratitude and a positive approach to life.”
Moreland quotes Robert Emmons again to describe the benefits of the regular practice of gratitude:
- increased feelings of energy, alertness, enthusiasm, and vigor
- success in achieving personal goals
- better coping with stress
- a sense of closure in traumatic memories
- bolstered feelings of self-worth and self-confidence
- solidified and secure social relationships
- generosity and helpfulness
- prolonging of the enjoyment produced by pleasurable experiences
- improved cardiac health
- a great sense of purpose and resilience*
Moreland comments that psychological studies are valuable, but we don’t need them to know the importance of expressing gratitude to God. The Bible is full of examples of giving thanks to God. Here are two of them. You might want to make a list of other gratitude verses and memorize your favorite.
“For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).
“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (Psalm 95:2).
*Robert Emmons, Gratitude Works! p. 10
Part 2 of Training for Gratitude (to be posted on February 27) will provide specific instructions for spiritual exercises which will increase our ability to find and express gratitude.