the words "thank God"

The Priceless Advantages of Gratitude|Spiritual Meditation

“Rejoice always…. give thanks in all circumstances”. This Biblical wisdom tells us to celebrate God’s creation and blessings.  Science tells us why.

Before we get started let’s pause for a moment and establish a base line. Think of a few things you are grateful for, then continue.

Hurdling Consumerism

In his book Naked Spirituality, Brian D McLaren writes:

It’s not how much you have that brings happiness; it’s how much you appreciate however much or little you have. Spirituality in today’s world is constantly under assault by consumerism, which claims that the source of joy is not in God or within, but in a new pair of shoes, a trip to southern France, or a new flat screen TV…. In relation to consumerism, gratitude could be called downright subversive. A lot of people (advertisers) spend a lot of money every day trying to keep you from being grateful. They want you to think a lot more about what other people have then what you have, so you’ll want more of what they have to sell.

Consumerism thus robs the soul of happiness…. But this petty larceny on the individual level leads to far greater crimes on a global level. Just think of where this sick, never-enough system drives us: to mountains stripped of gold or coal, to oceans plundered of fish and seas toxified with oil, to hillsides denuded of trees and wildlife, to fields scraped by bulldozers and paved with blacktop, so we can have yet another shopping mall (or storage facility) where we can buy (or store) more things we don’t need and won’t take time to appreciate.

Habitats are thus stolen from other creatures which means those creatures die and are stolen from other creatures that depend on them. Ecosystems that have developed over millions of years are tipped into disequilibrium and collapse. The cascade of extinction and imbalance rolls on like an avalanche or gushes out like an oil spill, stealing not just from the humans of today, but from the humans of forever.

Economist tabulate the gross domestic product, but who’s spreadsheet measures the gross domestic destruct – the losses extracted in advance from our great-grandchildren – when wild elephants, giraffes, wood thrushes, gopher tortoises, sea turtles, chimpanzees, horseshoe crabs, and swordfish have gone the way of the dodo?

We could give another name to the insanity of ingratitude: addiction. Just as it takes more and more heroin or cocaine to deliver the same high, ingratitude continually turns yesterday’s luxuries into today’s necessities. More and more stuff is required to get the same feeling of satisfaction. And just as addiction ultimately leads through insanity to misery and even death as the addict “hits bottom “, an economy driven by ingratitude whether global, national, family, or personal races through over-extension toward collapse.

That’s why gratitude is important, not just as a personal practice, but also as a group practice. It is a kind of immunization against both personal and corporate addiction. Gratitude is the spiritual practice that raises its fist in the face of this insanity; but that raised fist is actually a raised hand reaching up in gratitude to God. The naked spirituality that fosters this kind of gratitude may, in the end, be the only thing that can save the planet.

What You Have is a Gift

But let’s bring it back to the individual level; the things we may take for granted, that others would consider a great blessing.

People in Cuba are currently experiencing a food shortage but food is filtering into the country for some. Imagine the heartfelt appreciation of those who receive the additional nourishment.  Food is a gift.

The category 5 hurricane that swept the Bahamas, left the people with nothing. Many NGOs have collected, transported and distributed a long list of items to meet the basic needs of the lucky ones. Batteries and baby food are precious gifts.

A friend of mine has moved to Kenya to help set up a dorm and school for 20 disabled kids who are often left to beg on the streets because their families don’t or can’t support them. Can you imagine having accessible housing, a consistent food source and an education for the first time? Their level of gratitude for these gifts will escalate to levels most of us have never experienced.

Even in my own life, I had an accident that resulted in my inability to walk. After major surgery and weeks of recuperation, I no longer take my mobility for granted and am thankful to the medical staff, friends, family and especially God who made it possible.

Now, what can you add to the list of things you are grateful for? In light of the next section of this post, make that a long list.

Science Condones Gratitude

When we feel overwrought with negativity and pandemic heartache, it can be easy to overlook the parts of our lives we should feel grateful for. Creating a more active awareness of the abundance and positivity in our lives is a good idea. This shift in focus from a mindset of lacking to a mindset of satisfaction has mental and physical health benefits backed by science.

Improved Relationships

Grateful People have More Relationships

Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends. According to a 2014 study published in Emotion, thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So, whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or send a thank-you note to a colleague, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.

Grateful People Have Stronger Relationships

Gratitude nourishes our close and intimate relationships. Quite a few recent studies found that gratitude can help deepen and maintain a relationship by promoting a cycle of generosity between partners. On days when you are feeling more actively valued by your partner, you are more likely to feel an increase in your own gratitude toward your partner. This dynamic promotes a desire to hold on to the relationship and a deepening of connection.

In a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, participants who reported feelings of appreciation for their partners not only found more joy and contentment in their relationships, but were also more likely to be together nine months after the study took place than were those who did not share these feelings of gratitude.

Grateful People have Improved Mental Health

Grateful People have Improved Self-Esteem

In our digitally-driven world, it has become easy to compare our own lives to the “highlight reels” we see on our peers’ social media. This contemporary version of “Keeping Up with the Joneses” can produce in us  self-doubt, negative thoughts, and the destructive, and usually inaccurate belief, that our current circumstances simply don’t measure up.

The distortion of social media can overpower appreciation of our own lives and disconnect us from the good that surrounds us in the here and now. When we begin to actively appreciate who we are and God’s many blessings, self-esteem will naturally increase, leading to a higher quality of life.

Gratitude Improves Psychological Health.

It reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher at UC Davis, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

Gratitude Enhances Empathy and Reduces Aggression

Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when criticized. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.

Gratitude Increases Mental Strength and Stress Resistance

For years research has shown that gratitude not only reduces stress, but may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was also a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.

Grateful People Sleep Better

Bedtime can be an anxiety provoking time for many. People often find themselves having negative thoughts about parts of their days while trying to fall asleep, resulting in delayed or fragmented sleep.

Several studies have recently been done on the practice of gratitude and its impact on sleep time and quality. A study psychology professor Nancy Digdon of MacEwan University, found that writing in a gratitude journal for just 15 minutes before bedtime helped students decrease their anxiety and sleep both longer and better.

Another study at the University of Manchester included more than 400 adults (40% had sleep disorders). Researchers asked subjects to fill out questionnaires about gratitude, sleep, and pre-sleep thoughts. Gratitude was directly correlated to more positive thoughts, and fewer nagging, negative, or anxious thoughts. The subjects with gratitude and positive thoughts  not only fell asleep faster, but experiencing higher quality rest.

Gratitude Boosts Physical Health

Expressing gratitude can improve your physical health in numerous ways including heart health, dietary behavior, kicking unhealthy habits, and exercise. According to Robert Emmons, giving thanks on a routine basis can help you meet your exercise goals. In his 2003 study, he found that those who regularly expressed feelings of gratitude (as opposed to hassles or neutral events) by means of a daily journal, also engaged in more cardiovascular physical activity each week.

Additionally, Emmons identified that expressing gratitude can improve eating habits and cut down on unhealthy habits like cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse. When we are at peace and grateful for what is abundant in our lives, we are less likely to self-medicate with potentially harmful substances.

To add to Emmons findings, Psychology Today cited several studies that discovered that people who report being more grateful also experience fewer aches and pains, and are more likely to visit a doctor on a routine basis.

Ways to cultivate gratitude

  • Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
  • Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down, or share with a loved one, thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
  • Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
  • Pray. People who are spiritual can use prayer to express gratitude to God.
  • Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as “peace”), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, being one with God, etc.).

Gratitude to God

Another word for gratitude, that we can borrow from the Hebrew, is dayenu. The word is from a Jewish song that has been a key part of the Passover celebration for over 1000 years. It means “it would have been enough“, and functions within the retelling of the story of God‘s goodness over the generations:

If God had brought us out of Egypt, dayenu….it would have been enough

If God had split the Sea for us, dayenu…. it would have been enough,

If God had led us through on dryland, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had fed us manna, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had given us Shabbat, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had led us to Mt Sinai, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had given us the Torah, dayenu….it would have been enough.

Singing this song fills one with a sense of surplus, of being super abundantly blessed, and being saturated with good things, of one’s cup being full and running over. And it fills one with a corresponding appreciation of Gods unlimited generosity.

Conclusion

Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

How long is your gratitude list, now?

Relevant Scripture:

A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5)

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Cor 2:14)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:16-18)

Oh, give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! (Psalm 105:1)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James1:2-4)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thes 1:3)

References:

Harvard Medical School   https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/in-praise-of-gratitude

Psychology Today by Amy MorinWhat Mentally Strong People Don’t Do  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude

Gretchen Bove, https://www.talkspace.com/blog/4-mental-health-benefits-of-gratitude-to-keep-in-mind-this-thanksgiving/

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

overworked people in business meeting

The Murderous Workplace | Spiritual Meditations

How many work hours do you put in every week? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average American works 44 hours per week. A Gallop poll puts the average at 47 to 50 hours per week and a Bloomberg Businessweek report indicates that some factory workers put in 12 hours a day for 6 to 7 days a week. After a work schedule like that who’s going to make a healthy meal or work out?  And that kind of life isn’t necessary if you are One with God.

Overworking Your System

John Ross, MD, FIDSA in the Harvard Health Publishing reports that

In most developed countries, overwork is not seen as a public health problem. However, death from overwork is common enough in Japan that there is a word for it: karōshi. Japanese corporate workers, or salarymen, have a tradition of lifelong job security. Unfortunately, for them, the tradeoff is that they are expected to log long hours of unpaid overtime… In China, death from overwork, known there as guolaosi, is also said to be widespread.

Researchers from University College London compiled data on the relationship between working hours and heart attack risk in over 600,000 workers, as well as similar data on stroke risk in over 500,000 workers. … They found that those who worked more than 55 hours per week had a 13% greater risk of a heart attack, and were 33% more likely to suffer a stroke, compared with those who worked 35-40 hours per week.

Overwork also can result in sleep deprivation, which can result in a host of problems: obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It also inhibits our ability to think and remember. If you think you can function with minimal shut-eye, The Wall Street Journal reports that for every 100 people who think they are a member of the “sleepless elite,” only 5 really are. Only 1–3% of people can actually function on five or six hours of sleep a night without their performance suffering.

In her blog, Lindsay Kolowich relates that,

In 2015, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health published the largest ever study of the correlation between working patterns and alcohol consumption. In the study, a group of researchers put together a dataset of over 330,000 workers across 14 different countries. They found that …when people worked more than 48 hours per week, they were more likely to engage in “increased risky alcohol use.” Risky alcohol use was defined as more than 14 drinks per week for women and more than 21 drinks per week for men.

Who’s Killing You?

Some employers require long hours from their salaried employees; however, in some organizations the culture promotes a philosophy that extra hours facilitate promotion. The culture says that those who are always connected (via email, text or phone) impress their superiors. Those who take a company laptop with them on vacation prioritize the company above all else and make themselves indispensable. Sound familiar?

It takes an emotionally strong individual to walk out the door at 5:00, but that individual is or will be the more physically and mentally strong by doing so.

Can you identify with any of the above or does it sound like anyone you know? How do we escape from a life overrun with work and the accompanying illness? If you are in this situation, and know how to escape from it, I’m going to assume that you are already taking steps to resolve it. If you have not made the great escape, I’m going to suggest that your ability to do so, or your ability to at least reduce the pain, correlates to where you are on your faith journey.

Meditation is a Weapon

Solitude, meditation and prayer are going to give you stress relief to the extent that you use them.

Andrew Newberg, an expert in neurotheology states on Tonic that:

Despite a dose of healthy skepticism, it’s hard to ignore the growing body of research dedicated to the neural correlates and potential benefits of these practices [prayer], including non-Christian ones, like mindfulness and meditation. Dozens of studies have found changes before and after prayer or meditative activities in the autonomic nervous system, which controls relaxation and arousal, [and] in parasympathetic activity, which can decrease heart rate and blood pressure, metabolism, or respiration.

You may be exhausted, but fit in some meditation wherever you can; lunch breaks, after work, when the kids are asleep or early in the morning. Once you become proficient at blocking out the surrounding noise, you may even be able to meditate while on the train or bus. Talking to God can be done anywhere at any time. Make God a part of your everyday life and you will gradually recognize that He is active in your everyday life.

Lessons From the Truly Connected

For the truly God-connected individuals, (who know, trust and love God) big decisions are often urged by God, and He helps smooth the pathway. Just listen for His Spirit; your Inner Being.

Here is how Dr Wayne W Dyer explained his work transition.

When I left the work that no longer inspired me, every single detail that I’d worried about was almost magically taken care of for me. I’d spent several months working for a large corporation where I was offered a salary three times higher than I’d been paid as a teacher, but I wasn’t in spirit. That prodding inner knowing said, What are you here to do, and teaching/counseling became my manifested daily purpose…I suggest that there is no risk at all if you pay attention to that light…Combine your strong knowing with the faith the Spirit.

In the book Experiencing God, the authors relate the story of a doctor they met.

As a college student, he had felt God calling him to be a medical missionary. He attended medical school…[and] became an expert in the study of immune diseases and was invited to join the staff of a prestigious hospital. For several years he worked at the hospital…but during the conference at which he and I met, God convicted him that he had neglected to obey his call to missions. Now, well established in his career, and supporting a family, he wondered if it was too late….I advised the doctor to spend time with God and ask Him to clarify exactly what He wanted him to do at this stage in his life. Later I heard that the physician had resigned his prestigious position and had become a missionary in Africa in an area ravaged by AIDS.

Seek First the Kingdom

Besides prayer and meditation, how do we develop the kind of connection with God that makes us comfortable with taking the first step in making major life changes? The answer that we find in scripture is ‘seek first the kingdom,’ and all else, including material needs, will be met.  This is the Kingdom within you, developed through regular meditation on spiritual phrases followed by being in a attitude of listening to the Spirit.  Not thinking.

What we should be seeking is not increased dollars or improved health, as desirable as these are, but rebirth, an entrance into a state of consciousness, which is God’s kingdom, and not of this world.

From our earliest years, the desirability of being a go-getter, having a strong personality, being dynamic, knowing what we want and going after it, and the importance of getting, achieving, and accomplishing have been impressed upon us… Whenever, we have pushed or elbowed someone aside mentally or physically, or reached out for that which is rightfully someone else’s, in that degree we have also violated spiritual law.

Even that for which we have legally and legitimately struggled, was sometimes the very thing that destroys us because in as much as we are infinite, and according to the teachings of the Master [Jesus], have within us, all that the Father has, any attempt to add to that infinity is in itself a violation of the law of God…Instead of starting out in life with the idea of gaining, getting or achieving we would reverse that and our attitude would be one of serving, giving, bestowing, sharing and co-operating…In such a state of consciousness, our good [prosperity] on the human plane would be the reflex action of our giving and sharing. [italics mine]

Every time we believe that there is something or somebody to be gained or won–some name, some fame, some fortune–we are at that very moment in violation of the spiritual principle of life which is givingness.   from The Thunder of Silence by Joel S Goldsmith

Conclusion

If you find yourself, or someone you know, struggling to keep life on track, as a result of too many work hours, take a close look at the cause. Who is making the decision to put in all those hours? Are you succumbing to the culture of your work environment? Is it your boss or are you motivated by material things? God is always there to listen, no matter where you are. Can you whittle out a few moments to meditate, decompress and open yourself to hearing the still small voice of God, your Inner Being, guiding you? If you can, your future will be more peaceful and satisfying for it. Give it a try and contact me with the results. I would love to hear about your experience.

Relevant Scripture

Psalm 127:2
It is senseless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, fearing you will starve to death; for God wants his loved ones to get their proper rest.

Proverbs 10:22
The Lord’s blessing is our greatest wealth. All our work adds nothing to it!

Psalms 37:4
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Matthew 6:25-33 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.