The power of gratitude

(Photo: Lance1)

A friend and I often play the Glad Game.  It started when we were forlornly wandering around Morrisons, tired after a busy day. We started moaning to one another about pretty much anything we could think of, before realising how morose we sounded. My friend suggested we take a leaf out of Pollyanna's book and start naming things we are thankful for, one after the other.

It kept us going for a good 40 minutes, starting off with the usual 'I'm thankful for food'; 'I'm thankful for running water'; 'for my family' etc, but soon tailed off into the more obscure: 'I'm thankful for that video of baby sloths wearing pyjamas'; 'I'm thankful for the time I found that great conker in year 6' ... You get the idea.

By the time we left the supermarket, our spirits were considerably higher.

The power of gratitude is something that psychology experts Jeffy J Froh and Giacomo Bono have been exploring for a number of years.

They have conducted extensive research into the measurement and effects of gratitude in children and young people, finding that it is integral for healthy development.

Children who exhibit higher levels of gratitude are more likely to be better at interacting socially, achieve higher grades at school and build stronger connections with their schools and communities. They are also likely to be more generous, and be better at planning for the future.

"Gratitude is imperative for every child to learn," says Froh. "It enhances children's quality of life and helps them grow into beneficial members of society."

This news isn't altogether surprising.  It makes sense that by intentionally expressing gratitude, we are increasing our general wellbeing, both as children and later on in life. As we choose to become more thankful, we remember just how much we have to be thankful for.

I had forgotten all about that conker.

It's not all about us, however. The Bible has a lot to say about thankfulness.  A quick online search reveals that the word 'thanks' is mentioned 100 times in Scripture. A trip down memory lane to years of Sunday School and I am reminded of being asked to write 'things I am thankful for' on heart-shaped post-its or little pieces of card to hang on a washing line or to pin onto a cross or to put in a mini post-box.

This is a fantastic act of worship, but once we've done it, why is it that we almost immediately go back to moaning about the cold, the heat, the rain, the sun, the dirty stain on our jeans, and the fact that we had to wait two years between series of Sherlock?

Of course it's natural to have a bit of a moan, not to mention quintessentially British. But as Christians, shouldn't we exhibit a lifestyle of thankfulness, where we give thanks to God in every circumstance, on every mountaintop and in every valley?

When we've had a great day at work and our hair looks nice, but also when we feel neglected by a friend or we've lost our job?

My intention isn't to trivialise loss or grief or the hardships of life. God wants to hear what's on our hearts – the good and the bad. If you don't believe me go and check out the Psalms - David could give Eeyore a run for his money in the lamenting stakes.

But the Bible also says "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18), "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name" (Psalm 100:4) and "But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you" (Jonah 2:9).

That last one's interesting.  Sometimes being thankful is a sacrifice to us. It's hard to have a constant "attitude of gratitide" and yet it remains a biblical command: Give thanks in all circumstances. Praise him for the good he's doing even when you're not sure he's good at all. Thank him for his heart, even when you're not sure of his hand.

Even Job, after losing his family, his friends, his livelihood and his health, is able to declare: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth." (Job 19:25)

We have Jesus to be thankful for, and by actively speaking out the things he's done and has promised yet to do, we implore our souls to give thanks for the incredible work of God in our lives and we activate something that encourages us to join in with what he's doing.

But if you're struggling to know where to begin, try searching 'baby sloths' on YouTube.

"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed." – 1 Peter 1:6-7.