Sunday, 16 November 2014

Gratitude

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Just recently, someone anonymously surprised me with a very generous expression of kindness. It was completely unexpected, which made the gift even more special and appreciated. Although I couldn’t thank this individual in person, not knowing who he or she was, I felt extremely grateful and warmed by the wonderful show of thoughtfulness. I experienced a feeling of true gratitude.

For many people, the month of November brings a holiday that commemorates thankfulness for what we have and who or what is important in our lives. But shouldn't we take an opportunity daily to reflect upon all of the many ways—both the grand and small—that so enrich our lives?

Thank YouWilliam Arthur Ward quoted that "Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings." Over the past decade, the subject of gratitude has received a great deal of attention as a facet of positive psychology. Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, grateful thinking—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, and empathy. [1]

Dr. Robert A. Emmons, one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude, has determined that this attribute has two key components: First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world and benefits we’ve received. The second part of gratitude is recognizing that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. It is acknowledging that other people--or higher powers--give us many gifts to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.

Why is it important to practice gratitude? Over the last 10 or so years, hundreds of studies have documented the social, physical, and psychological benefits of gratitude. Research suggests these benefits are available to most anyone who practices gratitude, even in the midst of adversity. Here are some of the top research-based reasons for practicing gratitude:

Gratitude brings us happiness: Research has proven that practicing gratitude is one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness and life satisfaction. It helps boost feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions.

  • It helps reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Gratitude is good for our bodies: Studies by Emmons and his colleague Michael McCullough suggest gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and makes us less bothered by aches and pains. It can also encourage us to take better care of our health.
  • Grateful people tend to log better sleep, including getting more hours of sleep each night, spending less time awake before falling asleep, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening.
  • Gratitude promotes forgiveness.
  • Gratitude makes us more resilient: It has been found to help people recover from traumatic events, including war veterans with PTSD.
  • Gratitude helps to strengthen relationships and makes them more satisfying: It makes us feel closer and more committed to friends, family members and romantic partners.
  • Gratitude makes us want to "pay it forward": Grateful people tend to be more helpful, altruistic, and compassionate than those who are not. [2]

Not long ago, a group of us who do Bible research together sat down and listed a number of things that we are grateful for, and that we praise our Creator for. Some appear simple, but all are really quite miraculous in their own right. Here are some of them:

  • How good God and his Son are to us
  • Our families, spouses, and friends
  • The opportunity to continue learning through life
  • The marvels of creation we’re allowed to behold
  • Forgiveness
  • The breath of life within us
  • Peace and comfort in a chaotic word
  • Food (both literal and spiritual)
  • The trials and tribulations we experience in life that make us stronger and better
  • Our pets

The words of our Almighty Father found in the scriptures teach us much about showing gratitude and ways we can nurture that beneficial attitude of appreciation in our daily lives. King David and others wrote many psalms (songs) in praise to our loving God. Some excellent ones to read are 1 Chronicles 16:8-36, Psalms chapters 95, 96, 100, 107 and 147 to name just a few. Psalm 107:21-22 says, "Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing."

Psalm 92:1-2 reminds us of being mindful of his ways on a constant basis: "It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, And Your faithfulness every night." 1 Chronicles 16:29 instructs us to give Jehovah the glory due unto his name.

The apostle Paul wrote how Jehovah’s bounty creates thanksgiving in others. (2 Corinthians 9:6-12, 15) He taught the followers of Jehovah and his Son to make their petitions and thanksgiving known. Besides prayer, keeping a mindset on praiseworthy things can help us achieve a greater sense of inner peace and gratitude in our daily lives: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things." (Philippians 4:6-8 NKJV)

With practice and awareness, any of us can incorporate more into gratitude into our lives. We can come to realize how everything that we have and all that we are is through Jehovah’s and Christ’s graciousness towards us. From there, we have the ability to become more mindful of the many good gifts that have been bestowed upon us, the people and things that bring joy to our lives and even how adversity can make us appreciative of the strengths that we gain for having endured it.

What are some ways in which we can practice gratitude? Take some time each day to remind yourself of the gifts, grace and good things you enjoy. Set aside time to recall moments of gratitude associated with events or the valued people in your life. Say prayers of gratitude remembering where your very being came from and how everything that we have truly comes from our heavenly Father through his Son. (Acts 17:27-28, 1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Thank a family member, friend, coworker or even a stranger for something considerate that they have done. See how that makes both of you feel happier! Use all of your senses to gain a greater appreciation of what an incredible miracle it is to be alive: Seen through the eyes of gratitude, your body and all of its intricate functions is not only a miraculous creation, but also a gift. Savor the good little moments that take place throughout the day. Even simple everyday occurrences can make your life more meaningful if they are viewed for the beauty and worth they have.

Living life in accordance with God’s true word can help us reap the many benefits of living a grateful life and cultivating a grateful heart with implications that reach far beyond even the life that we have now. We can realize the hope of an everlasting life under Jehovah’s perfect rule where everyone will exist in constant awareness of the goodness He and his Son have provided. (Isaiah 60:20, Isaiah 65:21-25) How grateful we can be for that promise and many more!

[1] http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/gratitude

[2] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude/definition

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