We often focus on gratitude during a holiday or special occasion, and doing so can fill that time with a special sense of purpose by stimulating feelings of joy and good will. But if gratitude is so good at those times, why shouldn’t every other day also be an opportunity to take a step back and become more aware of what we are grateful for?
Doing so is a good idea, says Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who researches the benefits of gratitude. He has found that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism – which in turn means less depression and stress. He has concluded that a disciplined practice of gratitude protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.
He also recommends keeping a gratitude journal and shares tips on getting the most out of it: don’t just go through the motions, go for depth over breadth, get personal, try subtraction (not just addition), savor surprises, and don’t overdo it.
These tips could also apply to the kind of gratitude that goes deeper and promotes spiritual action. Take a look at the first tip: don’t just go through the motions. It’s easy to find ourselves just giving a perfunctory thanks and mentally rushing on to the next thought. But when I consciously stop and prayerfully focus on what I’m grateful for, I find that I can see how to actively express that gratitude in practical ways and through sharing insights with my companions. Another tip, the depth versus breadth focus, reminds me that all the things done for me, and all that I am able to do for others, are evidences of infinite Love expressing itself.
I especially like the tips on trying subtraction and savoring surprises. To me, shifting thought into a “subtraction” mode means understanding what isn’t true about me as a child of God, and letting go of those untruths. My spiritual practice begins with the idea presented in the first chapter of the Bible that divine Spirit “saw everything He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Therefore I don’t have to accept negativity, such as self-critical thoughts and bad habits, as part of my identity, and I can prove my freedom from these thoughts and actions.
Doing so, even in small degrees, really enables me to look at the world from a more spiritual basis, and each time I do gratitude overflows. Then savoring surprises becomes natural. God has a plan of good for each of us, so it’s logical to be open to new ideas and those surprises, and not be tempted to stick to rigid plans of our own.
Whether it’s getting rid of destructive impulses or encouraging feelings of joy and kindness, gratitude leaves us refreshed and rejuvenated. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, author Mary Baker Eddy wrote: “Are we really grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more. Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech.”
That’s the key. God is constantly showering us with blessings, and when we humbly express gratitude through lives of love, we are ready to receive more of His blessings. Such living gratitude is empowering and health-giving.
photo © GLOW IMAGES. Model used for illustrative purposes.
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