By Charity Schaulis and Tori Schaulis
Life inevitably brings both challenges and benefits; each year and season it is likely that you will experience both joy and disappointment. Yet, even so, you have the power to determine your response before anything unfolds.
What kind of response can you choose now? The answer is simple: gratitude. The word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratus, meaning ‘pleasing, thankful’. We can find a classic example of practicing this virtue in Scripture, specifically Psalm 103. In this Psalm, David uses thanksgiving to overcome discouragement, suggesting that the source of gratitude begins in the mind. Verses 1-2 say “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” The urgency with which David speaks to his own soul suggests that gratitude is a powerful choice, a choice that has the potential to alter the direction of one’s mood and perspective. David finishes the Psalm with a list of benefits. This choice connected David to something outside himself, forcing his view to broaden and making him more aware to what was going on outside, in and around him.
Without gratitude, one may become susceptible to self-centeredness, which narrows the mind, making it prone to self-pity, insecurity, and more. The ancient philosopher Seneca suggests the lack of gratitude is so detrimental that he considers it a sin. He is quoted saying “Among all our many and great vices, none is as common as ingratitude… and the most ungrateful of all is the man who has forgotten a benefit.” Ungratefulness breeds self-centeredness, which can take over if left uninhibited.
Psychologists have studied the benefits of gratitude and have reached a similar conclusion: that the lack of thankfulness can be harmful to one’s psyche and even physical health. Research suggests that expressing gratitude leads to optimism and leads one to feel better about life. One such study performed by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami pointed to the conclusion that expressing gratitude may even cause better exercising habits and fewer visits to the doctor. Another study completed at the University of California, Riverside confirmed that positive psychology might help and even reverse the effects of depression. Gratitude certainly poses endless advantages!
These advantages can only be accessed through individual choice. Pastor George Buttick of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York recognizes that this is a hard choice, unnatural to human nature. “A lecturer to a group of businessmen displayed a sheet of white paper in which was one blot. He asked what they saw. All answered “A blot”. The test was unfair; it invited the wrong answer. Nevertheless, there is an ingratitude in human nature by which we notice the black disfigurement and forget the wide-spread mercy.” Our brains are physically wired to recognize what’s lacking or wrong, instead of noticing what we already have.
Though difficult and potentially uncomfortable, the choice of gratitude is vital to our own lives. Gratitude forces us to look outside ourselves, causing our attention to shift from ourselves to others and the world around us. It helps to overcome discouragement, and in some cases, depression. Lastly it may even result in physical advantages, such as more frequent exercise routines. No matter what this season holds, may we each remember to be grateful, believing that this one choice has the power to alter our perspective in any given circumstance.