Recently, I picked up a copy of Robert Emmons' latest book on gratitude, called 'Gratitude Works'.
Much of the book is based on Emmons' work as an academic, exploring the psychological and other health benefits of cultivating an attitude of gratitude. The book makes fascinating reading, inasmuch as it brings a lot of evidence to back up what most of already know: grateful people enjoy life much more, have much better relationships with others, and come through their trials and tribulations easier and less damaged by their suffering.
Some of these benefits - like lower blood pressure, aches and pains and even depression - are fairly easy to measure and quantify. But the more fundamental benefits of gratitude go much, much deeper, into the emotional and spiritual realms, where science has always found it hard to follow and observe.
Framing gratitude in spiritual terms
Over the next few posts, I hope to share some of Emmons' more notable findings on gratitude with you, but for today, I want to kick off by framing the whole discussion of gratitude in spiritual terms.
The main reason why adopting an attitude of gratitude can bring so many benefits in its wake is because God has created the world in such a way that 'gratitude works'.
Let me try to explain the idea with an example:
Bertha's having a bad day. Her car failed to start in the morning, making her kids late for school, and her late for work, not to mention all the time and money required to get the car working again.
If Bertha doesn't manage to adopt an attitude of gratitude when it comes to dealing with the fall-out from her bad day, she can add a negative, depressed mood; anger and frustration; bitterness, upset and maybe even hatred to her problems.
All of these things are only going to make Bertha's situation worse. These negative emotions and frustrated, angry outlook will take a toll on Bertha's peace of mind, energy levels and overall physical health (because remember, negative emotions cause chemical reactions that can be seriously toxic, damaging and disruptive to the healthy functioning of the body.)
She'll snap at colleagues at work, shriek at her kids, feel victimised, burdened and severely out of sorts, and her ability to cope, act and think effectively will be severely impaired, as a result.
An attitude of gratitude
Now, let's see what would happen if Bertha managed to evince an attitude of gratitude, instead: her situation is still frustrating and stressful, but much less so. As she's not flooded by anger and all the other negative emotions we identified earlier, her ability to act, react, decide and cope are barely affected.
She finds the car repairman much faster, she finds solutions to getting her kids off to school much easier, she herself gets to work in a much more upbeat and positive state of mind.
Instead of turning her whole day into a disaster zone, the car breaking down remains a mildly annoying inconvenience, instead of a terrible tragedy, and Bertha and her family come through relatively unscathed, and maybe even grateful that they usually have a car that works, which maybe they were taking for granted before all this happened.
You need God to be grateful
Here's the thing: anyone can achieve this level of gratitude, but ONLY if they believe in God. Because if you don't believe in God, it's impossible to find deeper meaning to, and consequently acceptance of, all the annoying, difficult things that happen to each of us.
If God is missing from the equation, then the car breaking down equates to random suffering, devoid of any deeper spiritual significance or 'good' - and who can be happy about that?!
So that's why a belief in God, and an understanding that there is far more going on in this world than meets the eye, are the prerequisites for developing an attitude of gratitude, and enjoying all the major benefits that adopting a grateful outlook to life can bring.