Gratitude – the attitude that will change your life

I’d like to start this blog with something funny I read the other day:

Bill and Joe were walking through a field. Suddenly, they saw an angry bull. Terrified, they ran towards the nearest fence. The bull chased them in a mad rampage and they soon realized that they wouldn’t be able to outrun the terrifying animal. Bill shouted at Joe – “You come from a Christian family. Pray to God for us!” Joe replied, “I come from a Christian family but I’m not a Christian. I’ve never prayed a prayer in public before.” Bill said, “Never mind, just pray what your family prays! We’re in deep trouble here!” “All right,” Joe said, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the dinner table: ’O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.’”

If you’re like Bill and Joe, you might be in difficult circumstances and being grateful for them seems like a joke. But what I’ve learnt in my life is that gratitude changes things. Gratitude is the attitude that changes you and as you change, your actions change and that transforms your circumstances.

I first learnt about the power of gratitude when I was working at a Construction Association. The job was a poor fit for me since I had no interest in construction, so I was bored and utterly miserable but felt I had to continue it since it was the only job I could find after months of fruitless searching for other jobs. Then one day I went to a seminar where the teacher taught us a gratitude meditation, where for five minutes we just thought about the things that we were grateful for. I was amazed at how much better I felt after the exercise. So I started listing the things that I was grateful for about the job, such as the job was easy, the colleagues pleasant and the work load was light. I started feeling happier about my job. Then I had a great realization: the mind can only focus on one thing at a time. If the focus is positive, then you will feel happy. If the focus is negative, then you will feel unhappy. Gratitude makes your mind focus on the positive, creating joy, thus gratitude is a powerful attitude that can transform your mental state into one of bliss.

For Christians, gratitude isn’t just a nice option, it’s a necessity. The Bible commands us to give thanks in verses like:

1 Chronicles 16:34

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Colossians 3: 17

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Ephesians 5:20

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gratitude is not just good for your mental health, but your physical health as well. In an article in Guideposts magazine, Dr. Stephen Post, a physician at Case Western Medical School, discovered that

1)   Focusing on things you’re grateful for in just 15 minutes can significantly increase your body’s natural antibodies

2)    Gratitude can help make your mind more focused and make you less prone to depression

3)    A grateful mind induces a physiological state called resonance that’s associated with healthier blood pressure and heart rate

For me, gratitude is not just a virtue, it is an enjoyable virtue. There is something wonderful about giving thanks. Like praise and worship, when you give thanks, it brings joy and lifts your spirits. For me, giving thanks is an immensely pleasurable activity, a command which I quickly, readily and joyfully obey.

In short, gratitude makes me feel good.

Most importantly, gratitude makes me feel good when I should be feeling bad. When you face negative circumstances and are tempted to feel unhappy, gratitude makes you focus on what you do have and not what you don’t have.

Gratitude helps you put things in perspective, so that you realize that even when things aren’t going your way, there’s still a lot of good in your life.

An example of this insight at work is when Matthew Henry was robbed and gratitude helped him deal with the trauma. As he explains in his prayer:

I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.

I’ll end this blog post with a great quote from C.S. Lewis, about the pleasures of gratitude:

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.