Gratitude Part 1
The other day I had an unexpected phone call from a friend. He was offering to do something for me that really meant a lot – it was a favor that involved a hefty investment of both time and money. It was one of those surprise moments of unexpected gratitude – the kind where your heart swells and humility rises and all you know to do is say, “Thank you.”
It’s a subject that has gotten a lot of attention lately from the scientific community, as research is beginning to show what scripture has been telling us for thousands of years: gratitude is one of the tenets for a joy-filled life. And yet, while people of faith have known this since the days of Abraham, what the scientific community is teaching us is why it works.
And it does work.
Research studies show an overwhelming correlation between the practice of expressing gratitude and a myriad of psychological, emotional and physical health benefits, which kind of makes grandma sound a lot smarter for making you write those thank you notes after graduation.
According to Dr. Robert Emmons, gratitude works because of what he calls the “ARC” model – an acronym that explains the effects of gratitude on the human mind. Emmons states: “What gratitude does is amplify, rescue and connect.”
Gratitude amplifies. The very practice of giving thanks for something causes it’s impact on your life to become magnified. When you thank your spouse for doing the dishes, even though it is something you have come to expect, it causes your mind to amplify the act, reinforcing the positive benefits it has on your life. In short, practicing gratitude causes you to appreciate the gift even more. Further, the more we demonstrate gratitude, the more our mind becomes trained to recognize things to be thankful for, reinforcing the habit loop, making us more grateful, more appreciative, and more joyful for the little things in life that otherwise go unnoticed. Children teach us this every day, as they delight in the simplest of things, like the texture of mud or the wetness of water. It’s not that their minds are more simple, it’s that they haven’t lost the wonder of discovery. Gratitude teaches us how the transformative power of awe once again.
Gratitude rescues. Every day, we are bombarded with messages of destruction and pessimism. My phone constantly alerts me of bad news: stalled government, natural disasters, mass shootings, cyber security alerts, etc. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the world is out to get us. Gratitude, rescues us from the hopeless messages that we receive every day, by focusing our attention on the good that is all around us. One of the many benefits of regular worship is that every time we give thanks to God, we are reminded that our world is in the hands of Love, and that there is a God conspiring for our good, even as it seems everything else is working against us.
Gratitude Connects. Emmons calls gratitude the “super glue” that oozes through the cracks of human relationships, holding us together. The simple act of saying thank you communicates not only that you appreciate what someone has done, but that you appreciate them. Thanking the cashier at the gas station or the teenager at the drive-through window at the burger stand connects you in ways that go far beyond a transaction, because as simple as it is, those words remind both of you that you are not alone. This, by the way, is perhaps the greatest thing of all to be thankful for.