We hear a lot this time of year about giving thanks. And rightly so! Most people agree that being thankful – or more specifically, being grateful – is a very good thing. But did you know that there are also spiritual and mental benefits to having an attitude of gratitude?
As a student of Christian pastoral counseling, I give a great deal of thought to the places where faith and psychology meet. The subject of gratitude is one of the most popular of these places, because both scripture and science insist on the importance and benefits of gratitude.
For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Saint Paul urges Christians to, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” And Saint Ambrose is quoted as saying, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” Whenever we are truly able to focus emotionally on the things we’re grateful for in life, we also open our hearts to the love of God. God, according to Christian belief, is the origin of all good things. It makes sense, therefore, that we’d be more open to God when meditating on the ways He’s shown His love for us.
As mentioned, science has established that there are many psychological and health benefits to living with a grateful spirit. Study after study has revealed that grateful people are not only happier people, but also kinder to others and more physically healthy.
So with all of these benefits to gratitude, one question necessarily arises: how does one become a more grateful person? How should we go about it?
Well, many authors have written on both practical and theoretical tips to being more grateful, and I recommend that you check some of them out. But as a Christian pastoral counselor, here are just a few things I might suggest if a client wanted to be more grateful.
First, be intentional. According to Matt Pinto, Founder and President of Ascension Press, intentionality is, “pursuing that which is in your heart, that which you love.” It’s essentially the virtue of awareness, or knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing when you’re doing it. Some people might describe this phenomenon as living in the moment, but that would be a reduction of the fullness of what we’re talking about here. Those who practice intentionality are aware of their own desires and motivations, even despite the distractions of life. In part, this awareness allows them to be more grateful when good things happen because they’re not distracted by other things. They’re able to fully enjoy each gift God gives them because they’re fully focused on each new experience, by itself and for itself.
Second, be concrete. It’s not enough to simply think about what we’re grateful for – we have to be serious about it. Set aside some time in your day to thank God for your blessings, or keep a journal listing all of the things you’re thankful for. Psychologists have long lauded the practice of journaling as a valuable technique because it provides a structure for our abstract thoughts. But whatever you decide, the important thing is to make the things we’re grateful for tangible in some way, rather than leave them in our heads to get muddled with the stress of daily life.
Finally, be specific. It’s great to be thankful for your family, your friends, or your day, but don’t stop there! What is about your family that you love? What’s something special about your friends that you’re grateful for? Asking questions like these will help you to go deeper in your gratitude, and will allow you to really feel thankful.
Of course, all of this is just represents a first step. But considering all the benefits that come as a result of being thankful, it’s definitely a step in the right direction!