Here’s a little Bible trivia for you. In scripture, how many times to you think God speaks to us about gratitude in the New International Version? Well, according to a word count website, christianbiblereference.org, it’s 340 times.
That’s third in frequency only to directives regarding love, which comes in at number one at 551 times, and fear at 366 times (one for every day of the year plus leap year)!
We understand the importance of love, of course. It’s the very fabric of Christianity and woven into our DNA! And we can also understand the need to reassured about fear and anxiety and to be directed to trust God! But gratitude? Why would it have such a prominent place in terms of scripture themes?
Dr. Robert Emmons (UC-Davis), has helped to open the Greater Good Science Center at UC-Berkely to not only scientifically study gratitude and its effects on us, but also to promote the practice of gratitude world-wide.
Emmons and his associates have scientifically studied some of the positive effects of a regular practice of gratitude (practices range from keeping a written daily gratitude journal, recording gratitude in some other way [like the 365grateful.com project we read about last week in our Flow Book: The Book That Takes It’s Time] to simply thinking of three things you are grateful for at the end of the day). The first thing they discovered is that you can rewire your brain to be happier by simply recalling three things you are grateful for each day for 21-days. It all has something to do with neurotransmitters and the chemicals and hormones and stuff! Basically, gratitude actually rewires the neuro-pathways in the brain to help release more happy chemicals than in the brains of folks who do not practice.
In addition, they identified these seven benefits mind and body benefits to the regular practice of gratitude:
- Strengthens relationships and helps to make new ones
- Improves your physical health and motivates you to take better care of yourself (less illness, quicker recovery times, exercise more, eat better, see doctors on regular basis)
- Improves psychological health (lead to improved memory, happier outlook, and a diminishing of depressive feelings and anxiety)
- Increases empathy and decreases aggression behaviors
- Improves sleep (one study states that if you spend 15 minutes recalling things that make you thankful at the end of the day will help you sleep better, deeper, and longer that those who do not)
- Improves self-esteem and helps you become an encourager of others
- Increases your mental strength and fortitude and makes you more resilient in times of hardship
Those are some pretty powerful and peace-inducing changes you can make to your body and your mind, right? But, spiritually speaking, what’s so special about being grateful, other than the politeness of saying thank you?
Gratitude breaks down the barrier between the mind and the spirit and is a TRIGGER for joyful and worshipful prayer! How awesome is that?!
When we feel a sense of gratitude for something God has provided, (and let’s face it, it all comes from God!) our spontaneous response is prayer! We don’t thank God because it’s the polite thing to do. We thank God because we can’t help ourselves! It’s our soul’s response to His goodness and our reward is His joy in our hearts.
Ann Voskamp, in her book 1000 Gifts, dives into the spiritual significance of gratitude. She traces it back to the Greek word, eucharisteo, which, in Greek, encompasses the words: grace, thanksgiving, and JOY. Hang onto that for a sec, because we will be circling right back to it.
There is something called cognitive dissonance and that is a psychological term that means you cannot think and believe two polar opposite things at the same time. Like, you can’t be proud of your work while simultaneously being ashamed of it.
So with that in mind, you cannot feel gratitude in the spiritual sense (which we now know means grace, thanksgiving, and joy) and ALSO be sullen, burdened, and angry.
I did an informal poll over the weekend and asked people, spiritually speaking, what could they use more of in their lives. Unanimous two responses?
Peace and joy.
Okay. So let’s do a quick recap of what we already know:
- Number one thing gratitude does for your mind? Brings you peace.
- Number one thing gratitude does for you spirit? Brings you joy.
Looking for more peace and joy in your world? The answer is to practice gratitude.
But , this is not something we do quickly, nor should we treat it as a “to do item” on a list of chores! It’s not just: “QUICK! Name three things you’re thankful for – GO!” and be done with it. It’s something we do persistently, intentionally, mindfully, prayerfully. As Ann Voskamp says, “It takes a full twenty minutes after your stomach is full for your brain to register satiation. How long do you think it takes your soul to realize when your life is full?”
THIS is where we start getting intentional about mindfulness: what it is, why it’s important, what it does for you, and how to begin a practice of it. Our readings this week will be on mindfulness and gratitude and we’ll be stepping into exercises from our books to help nurture it! Click here to access the homework exercises and click here to access additional resources for this week!
Go enjoy your week, sweet friends! And get into the gratitude groove!
I am GRATEFUL for YOU!!!
Peace, love, and JOY!
Up Next Week: A Special Conversation with some special guests! 😉