Gratitude is more than being thankful….
Have you ever thought about telling someone why you are grateful for them or something they have done instead of just saying the proverbial “Thank you”? Or maybe you did express your gratitude and found that it meant much more to you as well as the person on the receiving end because gratitude is a deep level of reflection, acknowledgement and acceptance of our worth and the worth of what was given to us or done for us. This is especially true when it comes to our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
You see, thankfulness is just an emotion, while gratitude is an attitude of appreciation under any circumstance. It is hard to imagine being thankful or even showing gratitude during grief and loss, yet even in the darkest of times there are things we can be appreciative of even if they are seemingly small and insignificant.
In the early days after my loss I found myself being thankful. It was very surface level and frankly required very little effort mentally or emotionally on my part. Most of the time the words that came out of my mouth were empty and hollow words of thanks. As time progressed and I began to emerge from the grief brain fog I realized that not only did I have a lot to be thankful for, but I was lacking in showing genuine gratitude to those who were around me, supporting me and encouraging me on a daily basis. I was not being a good mom, daughter, sister, family member, friend, or co-worker. I was an energy suck all because I was lacking gratitude.
Gratitude opens the door to give us permission to be loved and to love others. I love how creative our Heavenly Father is when it comes to the most intricate facets of His character, including thankfulness and gratitude. Did you know that expressing gratitude comes with a wide variety of health benefits?
Robert Emmons a gratitude researcher found that gratitude is shown to do the following:
- Improve well-being by 10% – this is the same impact as doubling your income.
- Improved immune function – gratitude increases optimism, which studies show enhances the cell-mediated immune system, the way our body fights viruses and bacteria.
- Improves relationships – gratitude makes you friendlier, more social and more helpful to others.
- Increases sleep quality and duration – gratitude decreases time to fall asleep.
- Improves resilience to stress and makes you more likely to offer support to others.
- Writing in a gratitude journal can induce the relaxation response – this improves mood, relaxed muscles, lower blood pressure and heart rate
- People who practice gratitude exercise on average for 40 minutes more per week.
- Gratitude is happiness. Recognized after the fact to be caused by the kindness of others.
Beyond the beautiful health benefits that accompany gratitude, there are other benefits I have found to be true. As I expressed my gratitude to those around me as well as my Heavenly Father I became more aware of the things that I still had in my life after loss. Once I began to be intentionally grateful I realized that my Heavenly Father was providing for me even when I was completely oblivious. It made the text in Psalm 23 come alive for me. I feel each verse more deeply now.
Here is my paraphrase of Psalm 23: “He makes space for me to rest, He refreshes my soul, He guides me, He knows where my feet will step and makes a safe passage for them, He protects and corrects me, He comforts me, He provides what I need for my daily journey, He anoints me, His goodness, mercy and unfailing love follow me all the days of my life. I will dwell with Him for eternity.”
You see most of the health benefits that Robert Emmons found to be true can be seen in this passage in the Psalms. So, knowing this, why is it so difficult for us to be thankful and express gratitude in today’s culture? If I would have to guess I would say it is because we are so accustomed to the “me centered” culture of today. The whole “what can you do for me” instead of “what can I do for others” has been eroding the fabric of gratitude in our culture as well as our health.
It is time for us to wake up and take action! Knowing these facts, what can you do to take steps to move from just being thankful to showing and expressing gratitude in your daily life? I employed expressing gratitude to my Heavenly Father before I went to sleep and before my feet hit the floor. I know of someone who had a jar and wrote down and put what they were grateful for in the jar and then she and her spouse read them aloud on New Year’s day as a way to remember all that God had done for them in the previous year. This also helped shape a mindset of expectation for the upcoming year. They knew God had moved, so why would His promises for the new year be any different or less than what they had already been? Hint: they won’t.
In spite of your grief and loss, in spite of the pain and agony that you might be experiencing as you read this, please know that you can express gratitude without minimizing the memory of your person. You can express gratitude and still experience sadness, loneliness and heartache. You can express gratitude and still be grieving. One does not cancel out the other. In fact, I think that expressing gratitude in the midst of grief, loss, sadness, loneliness and heartache makes it that much more meaningful in the eyes of our Heavenly Father. It will be in those moments that you will feel the closeness of Him and the beautiful blanket of peace and comfort that only He can provide.
Samantha Stewart values her unique sense of humor and vulnerability in her role. She finds value in helping widows and other women connect with others in their communities through laughter and deep love for God. Her desire is to remind everyone that they have a purpose and that they can create a ripple effect of encouragement and support throughout our communities.