The word “gratitude” is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness.
With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives, and in the process, they usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or to God.
According to years of research published by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth:
- Compared to people who take note of the stressors in their lives, people who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis have been found to “exercise more regularly, have fewer physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole and feel more optimistic about their upcoming week.”
- Daily discussion of gratitude results in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and sleep duration and quality. Grateful people also report lower levels of depression and stress, although they do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.
- A grateful disposition enhances your marriage. Researchers have found that couples who experience five times more positivity than negativity, have stronger marriages. Essentially, it takes five times more smiles, compliments and laughter to overcome complaints, put-downs, and expressions of anger.
- People who think about, talk about, or write about gratitude daily are more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another person.
- Those with a disposition towards gratitude are found to place less importance on material goods, are less likely to judge their own or others success in terms of possessions accumulated, are less envious of wealthy people, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.
- Emerging research suggests that daily gratitude practices may even help to ward off heart disease.
We live in a world that constantly reminds us of what we are lacking, then tries to sell us a product to fill the gap. The world around us tells us that the happiest person is the person with the most things. Alternatively, gratitude is a way for us to appreciate what we have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make us happier, or thinking we can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met.
Gratitude helps us refocus on what we have – not what we lack.
So how do we focus on being grateful in this self-centered world? Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis, as outlined in an article from Harvard Health Publications:
- Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
- Thank someone mentally. Maybe you don’t have time to write. Of maybe you are grateful for something that a stranger did. It helps just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
- Keep a daily gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
- Count your blessings each week. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
- We can all use prayer to cultivate gratitude.
Brothers and sisters, while we can’t change our past, or maybe even our current situation, we can change the way we interpret these experiences. Let us all rewrite our life story with a theme of gratitude. Let us abide by the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:18, and give “thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Gratitude, with practice, can become not only a healthy habit to promote longevity, but a way of viewing the world.
This post was originally delivered as a speech by its author at the Watertown Seventh-Day Adventist Church.