ON GRATITUDE – A SHORTER VERSION

Gratitude is often trotted out around Thanksgiving as a seasonal interest, and then put away for another year.

The spiritual discipline of gratitude is intentionally chosen, deliberately trained, and exercised in all circumstances. The spiritual discipline of gratitude is practiced not just because it feels good, but because it’s the right thing to do.

The practice of gratitude results in a number of very practical, tangible benefits to body and mind. In fact, few things have been more repeatedly and empirically vetted than the connection between gratitude and overall happiness and well-being.

Becoming more grateful does not involve a denial of the reality of life’s hard edges and sharp sorrows. Through the lens of gratitude, you come to better recognize the good, to see the many gifts, benefits, and mercies that are present in your life that might otherwise remain hidden and ignored.

Gratitude is arguably the foundation of good character. Conversely, ingratitude is the root of all vice. When you are grateful for what you have, you spend less time comparing yourself to others, and less time making poor, fruitless decisions based on those comparisons.

Recognizing that the good in one’s life comes at least partially from outside the self develops a vital sense of humility. Gratitude turns our gaze outward instead of inward, helping us recognize realities outside ourselves. We recognize that we are not completely self-sufficient and independent. Gratitude allows us to appreciate and affirm the worth and value of the people, structures, and supernatural powers around us rather than taking them for granted.

Research has found that gratitude has a huge effect on improving relationships. When you realize what you’ve been given, you’re motivated to give back: the more you recognize what others have done for you, the more you want to do for them; the more you appreciate the world, the more you want to make it better. Cultivating and then expressing gratitude thus starts a web of virtue; it spreads goodness like a very positive contagion that can literally transform families, workplaces, communities, and the world at large.

One obstacle to greater gratitude is simple busyness and distraction. Another obstacle to gratitude is an ingrained penchant for noticing the negative over the positive. A third obstacle is envy. It’s hard to be happy with what you have, when it seems like other people have better things.

Humans are interdependent; sometimes we give and sometimes we receive.

Once you start practicing the spiritual discipline of gratitude, you come to see that while you can expect things of people with whom you enter into a relationship or exchange, you’re never wholly entitled to the material and emotional goods they produce. Once you realize life doesn’t owe you anything, everything in it becomes a gift.

Anyone can intentionally cultivate gratitude as a spiritual discipline. While becoming more grateful takes significant intentional effort at first, over time it will become easier; what begins as consciously chosen behavior will eventually become an ingrained attitude — your default response to the world.

Outwardly acknowledging the gifts we receive checks our pride, humbles our souls, and forges a link that will expand beyond ourselves to become an ever-widening chain of service and virtue.

Even though those two words are so easy to say, most people don’t express them often enough. We forget that life doesn’t ultimately owe us anything, that nothing is guaranteed, that we’re not wholly entitled to the good things we get. We forget that everything is a gift. But it is. So say thank you to everyone, for just about everything. If it isn’t already, start making a simple “thank you” a frequent, fundamental part of your daily language.

Let’s trot gratitude out again this Thanksgiving, but let’s not then put it away for another year but keep expressing it.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and I thank you for reading. Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

photo credit: mimitalks, married, under grace <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7380141@N04/11060278644″>How Can We Say Thanks to God? in an artsy video with a beautiful song (view in HD)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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CULTIVATING AND EXPRESSING GRATITUDE

As we come to Thanksgiving this week I want to pass on some edited selections from a lengthy article about gratitude I have had for a couple of years. I would like to give credit for these challenging observations, but I have no record of the source. I encourage you to take the time to read and savor what follows as you think about the discipline of gratitude this year. This is a longer post than usual; for a quicker read just note the parts in bold.

Gratitude is often trotted out around Thanksgiving as a seasonal interest, and then put away for another year.

While basic gratitude is passively evoked by external events, the spiritual discipline of gratitude is intentionally chosen, deliberately trained, and exercised in all circumstances. It is not dependent on changing conditions, but on mindset.

The spiritual discipline of gratitude is practiced not just because it feels good, but because it’s the right thing to do — not just for one’s own good, but for the good of one’s family, community, and society. The discipline of gratitude is in fact not a feeling at all, but a moral virtue.

The practice of gratitude results in a number of very practical, tangible benefits to body and mind. Research has shown that practicing gratitude boosts the immune system, bolsters resilience to stress, lowers depression, increases feelings of energy, determination, and strength, and even helps you sleep better at night. In fact, few things have been more repeatedly and empirically vetted than the connection between gratitude and overall happiness and well-being.

Becoming more grateful does not involve a denial of the reality of life’s hard edges and sharp sorrows. Rather, while gratitude recognizes the dark corners of existence which readily attract our attention, it also notices all the Beauty, Joy, Goodness, and Truth that is typically overlooked. In this, gratitude in fact opens one’s eyes to a more expansive view of reality.

It’s like putting on a pair of long-needed glasses for the first time: “Oh, wow, here’s what I’ve been missing.” Through the lens of gratitude, you come to better recognize the good, to see the many gifts, benefits, and mercies that are present in your life that might otherwise remain hidden and ignored.

Gratitude is arguably the foundation of good character, or as Cicero puts it, gratitude is the “parent” of all the other virtues. Conversely, ingratitude is the root of all vice; St. Ignatius called ingratitude the “most abominable of sins” as it is “the cause, the beginning and origin of all sins and misfortunes.”

The presence of gratitude counteracts the negative vices — envy, resentment, and greed — that its absence begets. When you are grateful for what you have, you spend less time comparing yourself to others, and less time making poor, fruitless decisions based on those comparisons.

Recognizing that the good in one’s life comes at least partially from outside the self develops a vital sense of humility, as well as the motivation to reciprocate these gifts and return goodness for goodness by practicing the positive virtues.

Gratitude turns our gaze outward instead of inward, helping us recognize realities outside ourselves. We recognize that we are not completely self-sufficient and independent and instead exist in a web of interconnected relationships. We recognize the help (human and divine) that’s gotten us to where we are today, and the help we continue to rely on to sustain our lives. In this, gratitude allows us to appreciate and affirm the worth and value of the people, structures, and supernatural powers around us rather than taking them for granted.

Unsurprisingly then, research has found that gratitude has a huge effect on improving relationships. Studies show that grateful people experience greater feelings of connection and closeness with others and with God, and are more compassionate, forgiving, generous, and supportive than the ungrateful.

As already stated, when you realize what you’ve been given, you’re motivated to give back: the more you recognize what others have done for you, the more you want to do for them; the more you appreciate the world, the more you want to make it better. But the virtuous effect of gratitude ripples out further still.

Research shows that when you thank someone for what they’ve done for you, they not only are more likely to help you again, they are more likely to help other people, period. Cultivating and then expressing gratitude thus starts a web of virtue; it spreads goodness like a very positive contagion that can literally transform families, workplaces, communities, and the world at large.

Given the very real benefits and positive effects of practicing gratitude both generally and as a spiritual discipline, why do we so often struggle to develop and express this virtue? There are obstacles to getting in a gratitude-driven mindset.

One obstacle to greater gratitude is simple busyness and distraction. We may feel a sense of thankfulness for someone or something, but it quickly evaporates as our phone pings, our kid cries, or another thought simply intrudes on the moment.

Another obstacle to gratitude is an ingrained penchant for noticing the negative over the positive.

A third obstacle is envy. It’s hard to be happy with what you have, when it seems like other people have better things. Envy destroys gratitude, and it’s harder than ever to avoid when everyone can show off the highlight reel of their lives on social media.

While these obstacles can be significant stumbling blocks to the discipline of gratitude, if this virtue is predicated on humility, then the very biggest barrier to its practice should be obvious: pride.

Such pride is rooted in the inability to admit dependency on anything or anyone. The truth is, we all rely on others to meet our physical and emotional needs. Humans are interdependent; sometimes we give and sometimes we receive.

Of the different “flavors” the pride that blocks gratitude takes, a sense of entitlement is undeniably the most significant. This sense of entitlement says: “Whatever I’ve got, I’ve earned. I deserve this. I had it coming.”

While we assuredly should take a healthy satisfaction in the things we have largely earned on our own, we should also recognize that the very possibility of achieving those things at all was foundationally premised on a whole lot of factors outside ourselves and our control.

So much of what we have was placed in our laps by sheer dint of happening to be born in a certain time and place. So much of what we have is due to simple luck and serendipity. We didn’t, couldn’t, do anything to deserve it.

Certainly, one is under no obligation to say thank you for acts and services that fall below what would normally be expected. But even when an expectation is fulfilled in a basic in a basic, average way – even when it does not go above and beyond, we ought to still feel gratitude for the act, and in fact, experience it as a gift.

Once you start practicing the spiritual discipline of gratitude, you come to see that while you can expect things of people with whom you enter into a relationship or exchange, you’re never wholly entitled to the material and emotional goods they produce. Once you realize life doesn’t owe you anything, everything in it becomes a gift.

That there are many obstacles pitted against practicing gratitude is the bad news. The good news, fortunately, is that despite these barriers, anyone can intentionally cultivate gratitude as a spiritual discipline. By regularly training your gratitude “muscle” you can make gratitude a matter of steady discipline rather than fluctuating mood and changing circumstances.

While becoming more grateful takes significant intentional effort at first, over time it will become easier; what begins as consciously chosen behavior will eventually become an ingrained attitude — your default response to the world.

Gratitude ultimately depends not on circumstances you can’t control, but on the perspective and attitude you decide to take; you can’t always choose what happens to you, but you can always choose how to respond. Outwardly acknowledging the gifts we receive checks our pride, humbles our souls, and forges a link that will expand beyond ourselves to become an ever-widening chain of service and virtue.

Even though those two words are so easy to say, most people don’t express them often enough. We get in that mode where we don’t feel like we should be grateful for people just doing what’s expected of them – just doing their job. We forget that life doesn’t ultimately owe us anything, that nothing is guaranteed, that we’re not wholly entitled to the good things we get. We forget that everything is a gift. But it is.

So say thank you to everyone, for just about everything. Not just when someone went above and beyond, but when someone simply did what they were “supposed” to – heaven knows that even when something “should” happen a certain way it often doesn’t! Be grateful to anyone who holds up even the basic end of the bargain, who doesn’t follow the path of least resistance.

If it isn’t already, start making a simple “thank you” a frequent, fundamental part of your daily language. Thank your wife, cashier, doctor, pharmacist, car mechanic, mailman, waiter — everyone who makes an effort on your behalf.

Let’s trot gratitude out again this Thanksgiving, but let’s not then put away for another year.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and I thank you for reading.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

SOME THANKSGIVING QUESTIONS

As we come to Thanksgiving this week most of us will be focusing on what we are thankful for. The past week or so I’ve been asking myself some questions related to the emphasis of the holiday.

One of the things I’ve been asking myself is what is the opposite of being thankful? If your first thought is ingratitude, that’s what I thought as well. But now I’m not so sure. Ingratitude is the absence of gratitude, but is it the opposite of gratitude? I’m ready to nominate complaining and/or grumbling as the opposite of being thankful. In I Corinthians 10 the Apostle Paul warns us to not repeat the mistakes of the children of Israel when they left Egypt for the Promised Land. In verse 10 he concludes his list of things to avoid with “do not grumble as some of them did.” Throughout the record of their traveling in both Exodus and Numbers we read about their grumbling and complaining. It’s hard to be thankful when we are grumbling.

Another question I have been asking myself is what gets in the way of our being grateful? I reread the account in Luke 17:11-19 of Jesus healing 10 lepers and wondered  why the one returned to give thanks, but the other nine did not? I cannot speak for the nine, but I think for some of us we are not as grateful as we might be because of a sense of entitlement. For some reason we think we deserve the good things and blessings in our lives. And if we deserve them, we don’t really need to be thankful for them.

I don’t have a Bible verse for it, but a third question I’ve been asking is shouldn’t we not only be thankful to God, but also to the people He has brought into our lives who are blessings to us? My answer is yes, but why aren’t we more grateful to them? I think the answer for many of us is that we take these people for granted. I’m determined to be intentional about not taking them for granted — not just for this week’s holiday, but all the time.

A final question we might ask is are we really thankful if we don’t express our gratitude? We certainly could be, but wouldn’t it be much better if we stated it? After all, the holiday is called Thanksgiving.

Here’s an illustration from a sermon entitled A Thankful Life by Kevin Harney. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

This is a story I have never shared. It’s a story that goes back to my childhood when we would go for Christmas to my grandmother’s house. My grandmother would give us a gift and then we would always get a gift from Aunt Elaine and Uncle Vernon. I’d never met them. They lived in Flint, Michigan, and we were in Orange County. But we would get a little gift and then a check for fifteen dollars. Back then fifteen dollars was like a million dollars. Every year I would get this check and this little gift from Aunt Elaine and Uncle Vernon, and my mom would say this, “You kids should write Aunt Elaine and Uncle Vernon a thank you note.” And every year my sisters Gretchen and Alison wrote a note, and I didn’t write a note. So one year we got to Grandma’s house, she gave us our little gift, we opened it, and she gave gifts to Alison and Gretchen from Aunt Elaine and Uncle Vernon, but there was no gift for little Kevin. And I looked and I said, “Don’t I get a gift?” And my mom said, “Aunt Elaine and Uncle Vernon let us know that you’ve never written them a thank you note, they will not be sending you Christmas gifts anymore.” I’ll never forget that and I thank God for it. I’m really good at writing notes now. And it’s not just so I get another gift. They probably thought, “He just doesn’t appreciate it, he just doesn’t care,” and they stopped giving the gift.

If we do not express our gratitude do you think God or others may think we don’t appreciate or care what they do to enrich our lives?

Happy Thanksgiving.

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SURELY BEEN GOOD TO ME!

When I went to bed earlier tonight I took a moment to thank God for the opportunity, privilege, and challenge to preach this morning at Westwood Hills Christian Church. I hope it is obvious why I call it an opportunity and privilege, but the challenge aspect was that it was a totally new message/sermon from an assigned chapter in the New Testament: I Corinthians 6.

As I lay in bed thinking about God’s blessings I began to reflect on my life going back to my childhood, years in high school, time in college, and beyond. I thought of friends with whom I had so many experiences and so much fun, of adults (parents, teachers, elders, preachers, youth ministers, and professors) who had such an impact upon me, and the wonderful people in the four churches I served over the course of 44 years God brought into my life who loved me and whom I loved.

There is also the blessing of my wife, Jan, to whom I have been married 42 years; our daughter, Audrey, and son Rob; and our two grandsons, Bobby and Ryan.

For some reason a song we sang in my youth group when I was in high school came to mind that I could not get out of my head. I got up and went to my computer to see if I could find the lyrics and had no trouble at all finding the song. Here are words of the chorus with the words as I remember how we sang it:

Singing Lord, Lord, Lord; surely been good to me,

Singing Lord, Lord, Lord; surely been good to me,

Singing Lord, Lord, Lord; surely been good to me,

That is something the world couldn’t do!

Do you ever have times like this? If you do I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a reply below or send me an email at bobmmink.com. Feel free also to share this post on social media. Now I’m going back to bed.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/24566159@N00/2451480923″>Thank You Note Letterpress</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

ARE YOU GRATEFUL?

Last week I was reminded of both the beauty of gratitude as well as the ugliness of ingratitude.

On Monday a full professor at the university where I am an adjunct happened to learn about something I had done for my students that was over and above what would be expected. And the next day he took the time and made the effort to send me an email thanking me. He certainly did not have to do that, nor did he gain anything by it (except my appreciation for him). But I was honored by his note.

At the end of last week someone for whom I have done a lot turned on me and spoke disrespectfully to me in front of others. In all honesty, all I could think was “has this person forgotten all I have done for him?” While I do not expect to be regularly thanked by this person, my spirit was wounded by his attitude and words.

One of the reasons I think saying thanks is so important is because I have been thanked regularly and often during my years as a pastor and teacher. And I know what it means to me to be on the receiving end of someone’s expression of gratitude. As a matter of fact, during my 44 years of ministry I served four churches: a summer intern youth ministry in Columbus, a five year youth ministry in Cincinnati, a 10 year ministry in the Philadelphia area, and a 30 year ministry in Southern California. I still regularly hear from people in all four of those churches telling me thanks. And during the last few years of my teaching at Hope International University many students have expressed appreciation.

Since saying thank you is so important, why do you suppose so many do not more regularly express gratitude? I know it is the job of our server to wait on us when we eat out, but I’m fairly confident servers are encouraged and appreciate it when we thank them. My sense is that some people don’t say thanks because they are arrogant. They think they deserve what they have been given, or the way they have been treated; they feel they are entitled to it.

It may just be me, but I think ingratitude is a serious sin that shrinks a person’s soul and hardens their heart. In my experience grateful people seem to be positive and happy people. Ungrateful people seem to be negative and discontented. And it’s really about one’s attitude, isn’t it?

Let me make a couple of suggestions.

One is let’s be more intentional and specific about expressing gratitude. First, I think to God; but also to those who are closest to us (especially in our homes and with our close friends) as well as those we come into contact with only casually. Don’t thank people to manipulate them, but take note of what a difference it makes when you say thank you to them.

Finally, learn to be a gracious receiver of the gratitude of others. Work hard not to rebuff someone’s effort to thank you by devaluing what they are thanking you for. Acknowledge their gratitude and tell them you appreciate it.

When it comes to expressing gratitude, what grade would you give yourself? When it comes to receiving gratitude, what grade would you give yourself?

Reply below and share this post on social media if you think others would benefit.

And thanks for reading and considering these thoughts.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/47823583@N03/6822297076″>I Can BEE Grateful</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;