Shall we practice gratitude?

By Laurel Pattenden

It seems fitting to write about gratitude as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches.

This was my thought as I started to prepare for the column and I realized how sad that thought was. Shouldn’t I be grateful 24/7, twelve months of the year? Do we only get into the “Thanksgiving mode” in October?

Before writing, I always check out some library books on the topic I have chosen. So with my pile of books on my table I begin to browse through them.

Gratitude has become a well-researched topic in the positive psychology field. Some studies have shown that having a regular practice of gratitude can actually help patients with heart disease and those receiving chemotherapy. PTSD is not as severe for those who have a regular habit of gratitude. The benefits are not only for the individual – when gratitude is expressed it carries over to those around us. So why don’t we feel and express it more often?

These same books had surveys that concluded that we do not express gratitude to our close family members and friends all that often. This behaviour affects these long term relationships and even can be the cause of them ending. Piglet (Winnie the Pooh) does better than me on some days! A. A. Milne wrote: Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”

Laurel Pattenden, Dorwarden Woods, Coloured Pencil, 2014

Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough conducted a study called “Counting Your Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life”. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, February 2003) That is an awfully long title! The study concluded that if you expressed gratitude daily or weekly your brain would produce more dopamine. The more dopamine the better we feel.

I believe the same results from the study could have been found with the old familiar hymn “Count Your Blessings”. Go ahead. Sing it. Sing it out loud. You already feel better, don’t you?

Not being much of a singer, I thought I would try a suggestion of doing a gratitude journal. This way I would have a practice to express my gratitude on a regular basis, hopefully changing my thought pattern. So I now have all my colourful, Sharpie markers ready to draw or write down my thoughts of gratitude. I can’t say it has become daily. But almost. Do you have a daily gratitude technique?

Going out and finding books and studies on gratitude really isn’t necessary. We only need to turn to our Christian tradition and theologians. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more that we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

David Steindl-Rast furthers Bonhoeffer’s quote with: “Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness.”

We can build on this with a quote from the Swiss Reformed theologian who wrote: “Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning”. G. K. Chesterton is in agreement with Barth with this: “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder”.

These quotes outline our path. For isn’t the Christian story a story of gratitude? Isn’t gratitude a major theme in the Bible? Isn’t it necessary for the Eucharist? Needed for a healthy relationship with Christ?

Let us begin our daily practice of gratitude. Thanks be to God!

Laurel is retired and likes to spend her time in her art studio.