The Power of Gratitude

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Feeling Discouraged? Be Thankful!


World renowned author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar stated: “The more you give thanks for what you have, the more you’ll have to give thanks for.”

The idea of gratitude is of great interest to the general public as evidenced by the prevalence of books available on the subject (more than 2,600 listed at Amazon.com). Most publications carry the common message that a life oriented around gratefulness is the cure for insatiable yearnings and life’s ills. The concept of gratitude has a long lifespan in the overall history of ideas and has been broadly recognized as a positive force in human life. In most of the major religions of the world, gratitude is a highly prized human disposition. To broaden this concept further, the consensus throughout the world is that people are morally obligated to feel and express gratitude in response to received benefits.

Gratitude can be defined as an emotion, an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, a personality trait or a coping response. Boiled down, gratitude is the willful recognition of the unearned increase in one’s value. It is the measure of gain coupled with the recognition that someone else is responsible for that gain.

So gratitude is the ability to notice, appreciate and savor the elements of life vital to well-being. In fact the degree that a person could develop a perspective of one’s life as a “gift” is the degree that a person is able to achieve optimal psychological functioning.

Researcher Robert Emmons, as reported in his article “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens,” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2003, Vol. 84, No. 2), found that the exercise of writing five items for which we are grateful or thankful each week helped people gain a positive feeling about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic in their expectations of the future. Furthermore, the effects on well-being (positive affect and life satisfaction) were apparent to the participants’ spouses. This statement should further encourage each of us to have more of an attitude of thankfulness.

Emmons showed that to maximize one’s contentment in life we must be consciously grateful for our blessings. Based on his research, he reported that focusing on our blessings is associated with more positive and optimistic appraisal of life, more time exercising, and fewer physical symptoms. People led to focus on their blessings were more likely to help someone with a personal problem or offer emotional support, thereby suggesting a “pro-social” motivation as a consequence of the gratitude.

Emmons’ research reflects and supports the truth and principles contained in the pages of the Bible. Another word for gratitude is thankfulness, and God’s Word is filled with examples of this attitude. King David in his Psalms was inspired to write of giving thanks in dozens of verses. Jesus Christ set us an example of giving thanks and having gratitude throughout the gospels (e.g., Matthew 15:36; Luke 22:17, John 6:11). The Apostle Paul admonishes all of us to give thanks always for all things (Ephesians 5:20), and highlights an attitude of gratitude as a central part of our every request of God: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Gratitude is felt in response to received benefits and unmerited rewards. If God has opened your mind to His truth, then you too are obligated and commanded to feel and express gratitude. Thoughtful consideration of an “attitude of gratitude” will allow you a greater understanding of the positive spirit the Apostle Paul exhibited while submerged in negative circumstances.

Paul understood gratitude. And he understood to whom his gratitude was owed: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

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