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 2 – Exercises to Increase our Gratitude
“Gratefulness allows us . . . to nurture a keener eye that no longer rushes past the small everyday moments that make up the larger part of our lives” (Guri Meht).
Part 1 of the Training for Gratitude post s described the many positive benefits of building the spiritual habit of being grateful. In fact, J.P. Moreland points out in his discussion of the the value of gratitude (in Finding Quiet, The Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices that Brought Peace) that of all the personality traits, gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction.
Moreland says that gratitude is not just a feeling but a positive approach to life. He recommends actually training for gratitude as an athlete trains for a track meet or a musician trains for a concert, or a doctor trains for a surgery. The first training exercise he recommends is to increase the intensity of our gratitude – to look for more and more reasons to feel grateful and feel them more intensely every day and express your gratitude to God with ever more meaning. Moreland notes that you will have days when you just don’t feel grateful or if you do may not even feel like you want to thank God. But he says, “Just do it and the feeling and sense of gratitude will come in due season.”
I have noticed in the last year that as I pay attention to being grateful, more and more reasons to be grateful begin to appear. For example, I notice a downy red-headed woodpecker pecking away at the bird feeder and sit down to watch it. His flitting around the feeder reminds me that my daughter-in-law gave me that bird feeder soon after my husband died. That memory brings feelings gratitude for her life of service. And then I am grateful to God for the blessings of gratitude that surround the sadness of missing him.
Secondly, Morehead suggests improving the frequency of moments of gratitude each day. This really brings home the idea of “training” for gratitude as a spiritual habit. Consciously looking for things to be thankful for make seem a bit artificial, but the more you look the more you will find and the more you find the more you will build a positive approach to life.
The third training activity is span. Moreland defines “span” as the number of life circumstances for which a person is grateful at a given time.” Here is a really home-grown example of span. I have my groceries delivered every two weeks, but I can’t use coupons because the order is sent on line and I never know who the shopper is that day. So when I received some very good coupons in the mail, I asked a good friend to pick up a few of these items using my coupons when she went to to the store to redeem hers. This time she was able to stay for a delightful visit after bringing me my grocery items. So I was able to share my gratitude to God for financial benefits, food I needed, and the company of a friend.
The last training activity is density – the number of people you feel grateful to for a single outcome or circumstance. Some time ago the federal government sent me a $600 stimulus check as part of the first COVID relief bill. During the next few weeks, several people sent gifts of money to me, reporting that they really didn’t need the stimulus check. That Covid relief bill was one circumstance that really helped me financially because friends and relatives shared their good fortune with me. You can believe I was GRATEFUL for all of them.
Another example of density is the outpouring of books and magazines that were loaned or given to me when I was unable to use the library because of COVID restrictions or had to drop subscriptions because of financial changes after my husband died. At least once a week, someone brings me a book (or an armful of books). A former co-worker from Lansing regularly mails a box of books and magazines by USPS. I am grateful for the New York Review of Books! – and she is grateful because they are being recycled!
This training exercise challenges us to examine things we are grateful for and thank God for all the people who took part in making it happen. They could be choir members who blessed you with your favorite anthem, or reporters who shared a newspaper story you were grateful to read, or members of a Zoom writing group or a Zoom spiritual formation group or a Zoom prayer group who bless you with their presence and their gifts.
Moreland says that there are two payoffs for knowing these four aspects of gratitude:
First, it gives us eyes to see and evaluate how different aspects of gratitude are growing in our lives rather than simply attending to the general notion of gratitude to assess growth. . . Second, it gives us a way to meditate on our lives so we can engage in different aspects of gratitude. . . . What matters most is that we experiment with all this to see what works best for us individu- ally.
J. P. Moorland also recommends activities in addition to the training exercises to practice gratitude as a spiritual discipline daily:
♥ Keep a gratitude journal and write down things you are grateful every day. I began to do this a few months after my husband died to remind myself of the blessings I receive in the midst of pain. I also decided to create a Blessing Wall covered with artwork I loved from cards I received, verses of scripture, encouraging messages, a poem my husband wrote to me 30 years ago, and even a beautiful note from Fred’s doctor about how he was blessed to know him. (I also have a Grieving Wall filled with poems and excerpts from books and Facebook posts that friends pass on to me. My favorite is a verse from a haiku:
“You think their dying/ is the worst thing/ that could happen/ then they stay dead.”
♥ Every month, write a gratitude letter to someone who has made made a difference in your life and for whom you are really grateful. If the person lives close enough, visit them and read the letter.
Moreland ends this discussion of the importance of developing gratitude by saying, “The bottom line to all this is that the cultivation of the habit of expressing gratitude to other people – but especially God – changes your life.” I can attest to that!