You may have noticed, as have I, that gratitude has been getting a lot of press over the past several years. To some, gratitude refers to an attitude, to others an emotion, to others a way of coping, and still to others a personality trait. Many interventions have been created to help us focus more on gratitude, and the personal benefits derived from being more grateful are noted to be numerous. But the pull to see the world through the lens of self-interest continues to be strong. At times I feel practically bombarded with media beckoning me to consider the newest method of weight loss, recent research for the latest cure, fool-proof plans for getting out of debt, tips for putting my marriage back together, and so much more. Self-improvement is a worthwhile and often lifelong journey for many, a journey that may beckon us to slow down and take time for reflection to consider who we are as individuals. These times of reflection can lead us to increased self-understanding, thereby helping us to identify our needs, hopes, desires and goals as well as areas where we could use a bit of work. Insights gained can help to set the stage for positive change and often serve as the necessary motivation for improving our mental health. However, our journey of reflection does not stop there.
With the hustle and bustle of life, it is all too easy to only focus inward and to forget to consider others. Maybe we sense this imbalance in ourselves, in our homes, in the workplace, or even while driving in traffic, when evidence of entitlement begins to outweigh demonstrations of humility—kind of that “every person for themselves” attitude. Or maybe we start to feel that our everyday communication seems to demonstrate increased negativity and far less joy. Upon further reflection, we may discover that we are, as Romans 12:3 says, “Thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought” and not giving regard to others. It has been noted in several studies that gratitude interventions can be effective tools for helping us to take our eyes off self and appreciate others more. We can train ourselves to notice and respond with increased gratitude to the fulfillment of a need or receipt of something valuable, to the contributions and giftings of others, to the beauty we see around us, and even to the positive we see in the world. But it has also been discovered that real and lasting change comes through cultivating a heart of gratitude and viewing gratitude as not just something we do, but as an important part of who we are; a virtue to which we must aspire. In his book The Science of Virtue, Mark McMinn suggests that “virtue can cause us to get our eyes off ourselves and onto the other.” And according to Aristotle, the “parent of all virtues” is gratitude. McMinn goes on to say that “gratitude is a virtue because it moves us beyond our natural inclination for self-focus and allows us to see and be thankful for the other.”
You may be asking yourself, “How do I truly develop a heart of gratitude? How do I strike a healthy balance of looking inward and practicing a healthy level of care for self with looking outward to honor and appreciate others?” For me, this involves the most significant part of our reflection journey—that of looking upward. When I take time to consider that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17, NIV), I am reminded that the goodness within me is because of the work of my Heavenly Father and Christ living in me. I recognize that the blessings others bring to my life are further evidence of the creator’s continued work in His creation. As I begin to recognize His work in and around me, I can sense His incredible love for me. I discover that whether in times of despair or in times of joy, He is always with me; His presence is His precious gift to me. He gives me the gift not only of abundant life here on earth, but also the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for me on the cross.
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15, NIV).
What is my response? “I humbly notice the gift, seeing the giver, and receive both.” According to McMinn, this is the rhythm of gratitude.
-Mickey Jensen – work with Mickey here!
McMinn, M. R. (2017). The science of virtue: Why positive psychology matters to the Church. Brazos Press.