We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude
25th September 2020
The expression of gratitude has always been a part of the religious life and thanksgiving is integral to people’s prayer lives in all traditions. This involves being thankful on a daily basis for the ordinary everyday things that we more often than not take for granted. In this short prayer from the Christian Celtic tradition, thanks is given for simply being alive and being able to get up…the sort of thing we take for granted. This was also once expressed as ‘counting our blessings’.
Thanks be to Thee, O God, that I have risen today,
To the rising of this life itself;
May it be to Thine own glory, O God of every gift
And to the glory of my soul likewise.
Well now science itself confirms that expressing gratitude is good for us! Biologist and author Rupert Sheldrake in his book ‘Science and Spiritual practices’ has investigated how many studies have shown that different religious and spiritual practices, generally make people happier and healthier. These practices include, meditation, reconnecting with nature, rituals, singing, pilgrimages and the flow of gratitude. And the value of such practices are being recognised and adopted by secular as well as religious people. For example a key proponent of meditation is the materialist atheist, Sam Harris.
On gratitude Sheldrake writes ‘ Study after study has shown that people who are habitually grateful are happier than those who are habitually ungrateful; they are less depressed, more satisfied with their lives, have more self-acceptance and a greater sense of purpose in life. They are also more generous.’ Expressing gratitude reduces stress, increases optimism and actually changes our brain.
It is common practice for life coaches and counsellors to ask clients to keep a gratitude journal, each day writing down things for which they are grateful. As a process it can help change a person’s mindset and enable them to improve overall wellbeing. And it particularly involves noticing the things we have failed to value because we take them for granted. It may be that our experience of lockdown has enabled us to become more appreciative of the ordinary everyday freedoms and experiences that we often take for granted , not least being at school!
Perhaps we should aim to make it a daily practice or once a week; on Friday if you are a Muslim, on Saturday if you are Jewish, and on Sunday if you are Christian by ancestry. Other traditions have their own special days or you can simply decide your own. This regular practice connects us to what has been given us and ‘the greater our gratitude…the greater also will be our desire to give’.