November 22, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Gratitude Is Good for Health

For Thanksgiving Day in America, we should realize that gratitude is good for everyone – provided they know what it means.

“Gratitude is vital to well-being, research shows.”  That’s the headline of an article on Medical Xpress that argues people should cultivate gratitude: “if we developed the discipline to be consciously grateful on a regular basis, year-round, research shows we’d be happier and suffer less depression and stress. We’d sleep better and be better able to face our problems.”

The article goes on to explain that gratitude implies another virtue: humility.  Psychologists quoted in the article also said that materialism (the shopping-mall kind) has a negative relationship with gratitude.  Robert Emmons, a UC Davis psychologist, is worried about the decrease in gratitude in society:

But despite the benefits, Emmons says, gratitude is in trouble. “Outside of happiness, gratitude’s benefits are rarely discussed these days. Indeed, in contemporary American society, we’ve come to overlook, dismiss or even disparage the significance of gratitude as a virtue,” he says. “We have become entitled, resentful, ungrateful and forgetful.”

Gratitude is difficult to cultivate, but needs to be, the article explained, describing ways to cultivate it, such as journaling.  It’s so important that one filmmaker quoted in the article said it could “save the planet.”

Usually, Thanksgiving is considered a time to be thankful to God for His provision.  This article, though, seemed to distance itself from God in favor of “science,” making psychologists the new preachers –

Long embraced by religion as a “manifestation of virtue,” it’s one of the few things that “can measurably change people’s lives,” says Robert Emmons, a University of California-Davis professor who has been studying it since 1998 and is the author of the book “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.”

None of the psychologists explained how gratitude (or any other “virtue”) evolved.  For that matter, they didn’t explain how or why the human products of evolution could or should be grateful except perhaps in a utilitarian sense.

The article was also unclear about whom to thank.  Gratitude requires an object—someone to whom to address thanks.  Instead of illustrating the point with pilgrims or modern Bible believers thanking God, the psychologists featured a yoga practitioner who improved her health with gratitude exercises, and a non-traditional nun who said, “Gratitude gives an opening to the universe to give more good things. Gratitude is opening to receive more good things from the universe.”  But can one really thank the universe?  And is acting grateful for the purpose of getting more goodies really being grateful?

Other than that, the article suggested learning to be in awe of nature, and “saying thanks” as a habit, without mentioning the object of the thanks.

Psychologists have it so wrong.  If you’re trying to cultivate gratitude to get something out of it (like good mental health or a feeling of well-being), you’re not being grateful.  And if you’re trying to be humble to be thought well of, you’re not really humble.  You can’t just make grateful motions and vocalize humble words.  These things require deep introspection about one’s motives.  No faking; no duplicity allowed.  Even when you think you’ve finally achieved humility or gratitude, you prove you haven’t.

Gratitude also requires an object, otherwise it’s just a selfish feeling.  We can be grateful to people, such as parents, teachers and others who have been kind to us, but ultimately all gratitude needs to point to our Creator.  One cannot thank the universe.  One certainly cannot thank a cold, pointless process of natural selection.  True gratitude is a form of praise – an act of worship.  An old hymn got it right:

For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies, For the love which from our birth Over and around us lies. Lord of all, to Thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise.
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