An Encouraging Word — Exercises in gratitude

We should be grateful to the Lord our God. Judith 8:25

A few years ago, I downloaded some “no whining” stickers and stuck one on my bathroom mirror, my computer and my refrigerator. I wanted to train myself to focus less on what was lacking and more on the abundance that is already present in my life. Gratitude means thankfulness, counting blessings, noticing simple pleasures and acknowledging all the good things that come our way.

When we live our lives saying such things as “I earned it,” “I deserve it,” “I worked for it,” “I can do it myself” or “I don’t need help from anybody,” gratitude becomes impossible. Gratitude has, at its base, the acknowledgement of how much we have been given. One has to be hopelessly delusional to believe that he or she doesn’t depend on others and everything they have they earned.

Rather than making us needy and dependent, gratitude actually makes people happier and more resilient. Gratitude strengthens relationships, improves health and reduces stress. Psychologists, Michael McCollough and Robert Emmons, conducted experiments on thousands of people on gratitude and its impact on well-being.

One of the things their work shows is that practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent. Those studies also indicate that daily gratitude exercises resulted in high levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. In addition, those expressing gratitude experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals.

My “no whining” sticker campaign was an attempt to shake me out of the natural tendency to take for granted the good that is already present in my life.

There is another gratitude exercise that instructs you to imagine losing some of the things that you take for granted. Imagine losing your home, your ability to buy food, have water on tap, enjoy a sewage system that works, have access to health care and the ability to see and hear. Then imagine getting each of these back, one by one, and consider how grateful you would be for each and every one. Surely, all those people from New York and New Jersey earlier this month lived through this exercise in spades.

I tend to believe that the decline in attendance at the Eucharist is directly connected to our lack of gratitude. All the current talk about “not getting anything out of” attending the Eucharist, tells me that more and more people think of the Eucharist as somewhere you go to get something rather than somewhere you go to give something. That “something we give” of course is “gratitude.” “Eucharist” comes from the Greek words for “giving thanks.” The less grateful we are, the more useless Mass becomes for us.

Maybe the best spiritual practice we can adopt these days is to simply keep a gratitude journal and take it with us to Mass every weekend. It could change a lot of things for the better, both spiritually and physically.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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