There are some physical laws we can count on. The law of gravity, for example, is predictable. There is Hubble’s Law of Cosmic Expansion. Kepler’s first law of planetary motion states that planets orbit the sun elliptically.
There is also the law of gratitude. It’s not a physical law but it is certainly a truth at the heart of the universe. Gratitude, the ability to see blessings and give thanks. Gratitude works!
Creating emotional prosperity
That’s half the subtitle of the book Gratitude Works by Robert A. Emmons. A professor of psychology at the University of California, Emmons writes (p. vii): “Gratitude is important not only because it helps us feel good, but because it inspires us to do good. Gratitude heals, energizes, and transforms lives.”
You may have known someone who did not have had much in the way of material possessions or may have been going through difficult times, but they saw their blessings and gave thanks. They had every reason to complain, to focus on the tough stuff, to zero in on what they didn’t have, but they saw their blessings and they understood how rich they were.
A friend’s brother was a teacher in an inner-city school and he still remembers the mother of a student who had all kinds of challenges in her life. She was a single mom with several children, and every day was a struggle. The first time the teacher met the woman, she was bitter and hard. Nothing seemed right. Nothing seemed good.
Then, the next time she came in for a conference, something had changed. He asked her if circumstances had changed and she said she decided she was tired of being miserable so she had begun to give thanks.
The woman started off each day by saying something basic like, “Thank you, Lord” or “Thank you, Lord, for the sun” or “Thank you, Lord, for that tree and the changing leaves.”
“I began to see how blessed I was,” she explained. “I began to see the good in my life.” The woman, in seeing the blessings and giving thanks, experienced emotional prosperity.
St. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, says, “Give thanks in all circumstance; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Gratitude works in all sorts of areas
Emmons points out that people who cultivate the practice of gratitude experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism. People who keep a journal, listing their blessings, say they are 25% happier, sleep one-half hour more each night, and have lower blood pressure. Not only that but when we see our blessings and give thanks, the negative junk like envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness are kept at bay. When we focus on what we have, we aren’t staring at what our neighbor has, letting envy make us miserable.
Our church staff begins every Tuesday morning staff meeting by giving thanks for “Hurrays” and “God sightings.” We may be doing hard work, facing some significant challenges, but as we begin to give thanks, the air in the room changes and people seem to get lighter as joy fills them up!
How can we cultivate gratitude?
- Pay attention.
- Keep a gratitude journal, naming three blessings at the end of each day.
- Consider your God-given gifts and use them to give back to others.
- Send a letter of gratitude to someone.
Trust me: if you tend to have a difficult time seeing your blessings, giving thanks will help you get better at gratitude. With practice, prayer, and a little encouragement you can overcome your “gratitude deficit disorder.”
Your life will be better. You will be better!
Grateful people and the two “g” words
Grateful people tend to be better givers. The happiest people I know are people who see their blessings, make a practice of giving thanks, and love to give back. I’ve never met a grumpy tither (returning 10% of what they have been given by God, to God for God to use).
When the leaves start changing and the Major League Baseball playoffs get started, churches tend to talk about stewardship. This week, instead of asking you to consider how you give and what you give to God, as an act of praise and thanksgiving, I invite you to focus on gratitude. I invite you to slow down, open your eyes, and take time to say, “Thank you.”
The universe is wired so that those two words are always connected: gratitude and giving. It’s too bad the word joy doesn’t begin with the letter “g” — because gratitude, giving, and joy are all a part of the same dance… the same song… the same reality.
See you in worship this Sunday as we continue THE STORY!
- Morning Connect at 8:45 in the Sanctuary
- Classic Worship at 10 in the Sanctuary
- The Open Door at 11:15 in the Buskirk-Chumley Theater
Jubilee, our college outreach ministry, happens Wednesday nights at 7:30 in the Bloomington Sandwich Company on Kirkwood. We’ll buy your meal!
Finally, don’t miss the joy God can give you by becoming part of our world-changing ministry team for Sunday school with children and don’t forget to help with Pumpkin Night!