Nurture a spirit of gratitude

  • Published
  • By Chap. (Lt. Col.) Timothy Porter
  • 21st Space Wing chaplain
I love this time of year - a time to observe holiday celebrations, eat a lot of good food and gain weight for the winter! This season brings back fond memories not only from my childhood but also celebrations with family, the chapel community and friends. This is a season to express our thankfulness to God for all that is good in our lives and also to friends and family for what they mean to us.

Developing a conscious spirit of gratitude is a mission-essential quality that enables us to appreciate our material blessings and to endure adversity, set back or loss. When we are grateful we focus on what we have -- not on what we don't have -- which produces contentment. Learning to be content can be a challenge though. A Peanuts cartoon, by the late Charles Schulz, captures the heart of this matter in a conversation between Lucy and Charlie Brown in a discussion about Christmas.

Lucy Van Pelt: I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys or a bicycle or clothes or something like that.
Charlie Brown: What is it you want?
Lucy Van Pelt: Real estate

Maybe Lucy's expectations are a bit unreasonable. I bet that if Lucy received the "real estate" she wanted there would probably be another reason for discontentment because contentment is a matter of the heart not of the things we possess. I don't want to judge her too severely, because I can relate to Lucy's discontentment and perhaps you can too?

When I was a kid, my brother and I received BB guns for Christmas. I thought it was the greatest thing around, until a few days later my friend came over and he too had received a BB gun for Christmas. However, his was a pump-action pellet gun. It looked like a real hunting rifle, possessed more power and shot farther than my inept BB gun. It was amazing how quickly the feelings of dissatisfaction overcame me!

Perhaps you've purchased the latest electronic device and were satisfied with it for a period of time, then a new model hit the market and suddenly the electronic gadget that met all your needs was obsolete and you felt dissatisfied just knowing there was something bigger and better out there.

Learning to be content and regularly expressing feelings of gratitude are key factors for developing a resilient life. The latest research on gratitude by the Emmons Lab discovered the following:

o Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality and optimism, and lower levels of depression and stress.
o People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathic and to take the perspective of others. They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks.
o Those who regularly attend religious services and engage in religious activities such as prayer or reading religious material are more likely to be grateful. Gratitude does not require religious faith, but faith enhances the ability to be grateful.
o Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods; they are less likely to judge their own and others' success in terms of possessions accumulated; they are less envious of others; and are more likely to share their possessions with others relative to less grateful persons.

If gratitude and contentment are important qualities that undergird our ability to endure hardship and appreciate our blessings, how can we nurture more gratitude in our lives?

First, instead of allowing the pursuit of material things to be the source of our happiness, take a mental inventory of the things you already possess and be grateful! Daily, look for opportunities to express gratitude to others and also to God. Think beyond just your material stuff. Consider being grateful that your day went well, you accomplished an important goal, completed a project or met a critical suspense, or your children or family members experienced a significant accomplishment.

Dr. Richard Carlson, author of "Don't Stress the Small Stuff" writes, "Spending a little time calculating the number of things that go right is a simple but powerful way to reactivate our sense of wonder and gratitude." At the end of the day, we can perform a mental review by asking ourselves, "What went right today?" And then be grateful.

Second, sharing personal resources with those less fortunate is an expression of gratitude and giving increases personal feelings of joy when practiced regularly. Some ways you can give include: Angel Tree - the chapel and first sergeants are coordinating Angel Tree to provide gifts to military children of young families who need an extra boost over the holidays. Angel Trees are located in buildings 350, 1 and in the chapel. Take an angel from the tree and purchase the gifts for a child. Involve your children in this project by allowing them to pick out the gifts for the other child. Another opportunity is giving to a relief agency listed in the Combined Federal Campaign catalog. Relief agencies extend your care to people who are suffering loss, like those in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Finally, consider purchasing groceries for a local food bank, or volunteering some of your time to assemble care packages for the holidays. These are just a few examples of the numerous opportunities around us where we can express our gratitude in tangible ways.

Gratitude is a powerful expression. It enables us to be content with our material possessions and renews our perspective when we experience setbacks. Gratitude causes us to appreciate the people that bring meaning to our lives. It prompts us to take inventory of our simple blessings that we normally would have taken for granted. Gratitude motivates us to meet the needs of those who are less fortunate. Ultimately, gratitude is a spiritual quality that renews our hope and it is a key expression of a resilient life.