“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 )
I realize many reading the title of this essay may feel that there doesn’t need to be another article about gratitude. CatholicStand.com is obviously a faith-based site. The users understand that gratitude is an important aspect of our relationship with God.
Every Sunday we attend Mass and give thanks to God. The word Eucharist is actually derived from the Greek word “eucharisteo”, meaning “to give thanks”. Of the four types of prayers (CC 2637), being thankful is one of them. The word “thanks” is mentioned dozens of times during Mass. I hope we are all familiar with gratitude since we practice it each Sunday.
Why Write About Gratitude?
I think we all need to be reminded that gratitude is a very important aspect of our personal happiness and the happiness of the ones around us and the ones we love. We should be grateful everyday, not just on Sundays.
We have all witnessed the increase in hostility, the lack of civility and the sense of entitlement in our culture. College students who are constantly protesting for more money, rights, etc.; the rise of narcissism in the public square. What causes this? Why are people so mad? Or are they depressed about other things happening in their respective lives? I think one reason is the lack of gratitude.
Now this is not an admonishment to the readers or anyone else. I know that I am the worst offender out there when it comes to gratitude. I get caught up in my own self-centeredness more often than not. I deserve that raise; I deserve that project; I deserve…fill in the blank. This feeling of entitlement spreads to the people around me. The angst I feel when things do not go exactly they way I think it should be is also contagious.
I see this contagion when I become frustrated either at work or at home. Co-workers moods turn sour; at home the family notices it too and their attitude reflects my bad mood. How many people did I affect because I did not think about what I was grateful for? The people I see everyday? And how many people are they going to infect because of my lack of gratitude?
So it begins with me to help change the culture. And gratitude is the best way to stem the contagion. Just stop, pause and give thanks when things start to turn for the worse. Simple, but not easy.
Refocus the Mind
Luckily I have a shining example of how to show gratitude and be grateful very close to me, my lovely wife. Not surprisingly she has seen me in my most agitated state. Each time I feel depressed she emphasizes that I should be grateful to God for all we have. This mostly (I say mostly because it is difficult to quickly shift gears) does the trick because I have much to be grateful for. And it refocuses the mind on the positive instead of the negative.
To ensure our family reflects on gratitude each day, she instituted a practice during our meals after grace to have each one of us state what occurred. We want to hear what happened that day, good and bad, but we include what we are grateful for. This practice has really changed the dynamic and feeling for the rest of the night. As stated above, it refocuses the mind on the positive.
Thanks to my wife for a wonderful idea. Refocusing the mind on what we are grateful for at the end of a difficult day refreshes the soul and leads to greater happiness.
When people focus on the negative they become less energetic, unmotivated, and happiness decreases. These feelings create a cycle of negativity. It feeds on itself and continues to perpetuate.
Redirecting your thoughts when they are negative fosters contentment. At the time of the crisis, it might not feel like it but each of us has something to be grateful for. Family, work, being alive, the Church…all are positive attributes. It is difficult to focus on what is good in life and being grateful when we are down is difficult but it can be done.
Crises can also be a teaching event or as JRR Tolkien wrote, “What punishments of God are not gifts?” A few years ago during an interview Stephen Colbert mentioned the quote above during an interview discussing the untimely deaths of his father and brothers when Colbert was 10 years old. He went on to say, “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.” He also attributed this to not being angry as an adult, and by default increasing his happiness.
While I don’t agree with all Colbert says and does, I am grateful he mentioned Tolkien’s quote. I am particularly grateful he used his public forum to spread the benefits of gratitude.
If each one of us practices gratitude each day, we can slowly stem the tide of our cultural decline one person at a time. (I know this might be wishful thinking or naiveté but it will not hurt to try.) It will also increase our happiness. Gratitude is contagious and affects everyone around us. Let’s spread the thanks!