05 September 2005

… On the duty and blessing of gratitude

Secular researchers have recently reported that grateful people have better mental health—and to a certain extent, physical health—than those who “count their hassles.” They also sleep better, are nicer to be around and more willing to help others. Reports also reveal that those who live grateful lives are less dependent on positive life events for their level of gratitude. In other words, grateful people are grateful in spite of circumstances. Researchers have also concluded that ungrateful people are often characterized with excessive self-importance, arrogance and entitlement from others without assuming reciprocal responsibly to others—a pattern of behavior known as narcissism.

None of this recent research should surprise us. Cicero, the Roman philosopher and politician who lived during the declining years of the Roman Empire in the century before the birth of Christ, wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Seneca, the Roman playwright, philosopher and tutor to Nero in the first century, called ingratitude “an abomination.” Indeed, it can be argued that gratitude is crucial for the welfare and survival of a family, community, and society. All of this suggests that gratitude is a moral issue because interactions among us are greatly influenced by our relative state of gratitude or ingratitude. If we live ungrateful lives, we relate to those around us differently than if we live a life of gratitude.

Moreover, our state of gratitude is a moral issue because it is a direct measure of our awareness of who God is and what he has done for us. Left to ourselves, we tend to be ungrateful or worse (Mark 7:21-22). We tend to conclude that we owe nothing. But the Gospel tells us that we owe everything! Gratitude is a product of and inherent to faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 5:20). God’s Word teaches us of the duty (1 Thess 5:18) and blessing (2 Cor 9:11) of gratitude and the consequences of its absence (2 Tim 3:1-5). Gratitude appreciates and takes nothing for granted (as reflected in the Letter to the Philippians). In the Gospel, gratitude recognizes God’s merciful, gracious provision for both time and eternity. Communion with Christ combines remembering with thanksgiving. Gratitude flows from confidence that He has and will supply all our needs. It rids us of our selfishness, impatience, criticalness, bitterness and sense of entitlement. Gratitude puts self aside and responds, “I thank You for the privilege of serving You.” And we serve Him also by serving those around us—in our homes, church, community and country.

Our relative state of gratitude is grown and nurtured by reading. Good reading helps to slow us down and take our gaze off ourselves. In addition to the Scriptures, such reading as biographies, history, of other times and of other places stimulates appreciation and broadens gratitude for what we have been given. So let us discipline ourselves to take up and read!

(Originally published in DeiLight January 2005)