“Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift.–John Ortberg
It liberates us from the prison of self–preoccupation.”
For years, I have been an evangelist of gratitude. Not because I live a Pollyanna, positive-thinking lifestyle, but because of what intentional gratitude did to change my very existence.
I’ve written extensively about my consistent struggle with depression and emotional health. That’s not my point today. It is, however, a reminder that in a world where recent polls show that, “Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States. More than 50% will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year,” we need a proactive reframing of our present conditions.
In a recent article entitled “Causes of Depression,” the following were the leading factors in a person experiencing the many varying degrees of this often debilitating emotion:
- Abuse. Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can make you more vulnerable to depression later in life.
- Age. People who are elderly are at higher risk of depression. That can be made worse by other factors, such as living alone and having a lack of social support.
- Certain medications. Some drugs, such as isotretinoin (used to treat acne), the antiviral drug interferon-alpha, and corticosteroids, can increase your risk of depression.
- Conflict. Depression in someone who has the biological vulnerability to it may result from personal conflicts or disputes with family members or friends.
- Death or a loss. Sadness or grief after the death or loss of a loved one, though natural, can increase the risk of depression.
- Gender. Women are about twice as likely as men to become depressed. No one’s sure why. The hormonal changes that women go through at different times of their lives may play a role.
- Genes. A family history of depression may increase the risk. It’s thought that depression is a complex trait, meaning there are probably many different genes that each exert small effects, rather than a single gene that contributes to disease risk. The genetics of depression, like most psychiatric disorders, are not as simple or straightforward as in purely genetic diseases such as Huntington’s chorea or cystic fibrosis.
- Major events. Even good events such as starting a new job, graduating, or getting married can lead to depression. So can moving, losing a job or income, getting divorced, or retiring. However, the syndrome of clinical depression is never just a “normal” response to stressful life events.
- Other personal problems. Problems such as social isolation due to other mental illnesses or being cast out of a family or social group can contribute to the risk of developing clinical depression.
- Serious illnesses. Sometimes, depression happens along with a major illness or may be triggered by another medical condition.
- Substance misuse. Nearly 30% of people with substance misuse problems also have major or clinical depression. Even if drugs or alcohol temporarily make you feel better, they ultimately will aggravate depression.
Holy Cow! After reading through that list, you realize that we are all candidates for experiencing some measure of depression – especially during the holidays!
Let me be clear. Significant depression requires professional care. If you are in the state of Georgia and you are living the challenge of depression, please reach our to ClearPath Counseling. The team of therapists and counselors at ClearPath are the best in the business, and they desire to help you make finding and receiving assistance simple and affordable.
In the meantime, we all could benefit from the emotional, physical and spiritual benefits of creating a simple and sustainable system of INTENTIONAL GRATITUDE in our daily lives. here’s why:
Before I even touch on the spiritual benefits, read these quotes from the National Alliance for Mental Illness.
“…. many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed….” Learn more from Gratitude Changes You And Your Brain (Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine).
In a study, “one group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.” Learn more from Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier (Harvard Health)
“There’s a growing body of research on the benefits of gratitude. Studies have found that giving thanks and counting blessings can help people sleep better, lower stress and improve interpersonal relationships….” Learn more from If You Feel Thankful, Write It Down. It’s Good For Your Health (NPR)
“A large study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University showed that thankfulness predicted a significantly lower risk of major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence and drug abuse….” Learn more from When Looking for Happiness, Find Gratitude, Gratitude (NAMI)
“…. experiments have shown that people whole partake in the “three good things” exercise — which, as the name suggests, prompts people to think of three good moments or things that happened that day — see considerable improvements in depression and overall happiness, sometimes in as little as a couple weeks….” Learn more from 7 Surprising Health Benefits of Gratitude (Time)
Just a reminder that none of these quoted sources are exactly bastions of spiritual health.
Gratitude, my friends, is a significant theme in the Bible.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 in the NLT is pretty clear:
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
Did you read that? Give thanks in all circumstances. Thankfulness should be a way of life for us, naturally flowing from our hearts and mouths. And when it is, it has the power to reshape our emotions and hearts each day.
It is pretty significant that Paul doesn’t tell us to give thanks for everything. The preposition used is the Greek en, which is translated by the English preposition in. Paul isn’t saying that we must be thankful for the difficulties we encounter; instead, he is challenging us to be grateful in any circumstance. Paul recognized that the secret of peace, joy, and contentment isn’t found in circumstances. Instead, there is peace, joy, and contentment is directly found in recognizing it is Christ who strengthens us for whatever we might face.
I once thought that this was simply a mindset issue. That I could simply try harder to think more thankfully, or positively. That is simple hogwash. A growing body of research shows that writing down (physically) what you are grateful for can lower stress, help you sleep better, and may even reduce the risk of heart disease. Write it down!
When I started writing down – every single day – the three things that I am grateful for, my life started to radically improve. I was far more engaged with God, and He was obvious in sharing with me, His pleasure. I was calmer, more contented, less stressful, and a far better human to live and work with – far better!
I use a simple, sustainable system. I write on a plain 3×5 card each day three things I am grateful for that morning. It takes less than one minute. Be real, not super-spiritual. My thre this morning were quite real;
1) I finally got my new iPhone – love it.
2) My 12 year-old car is super clean and filled with fuel – woo-hoo!
3) God answered a significant prayer this week and I am so stinking grateful!
It’s not hard – Just three things that come to the top of your mind – Do not overthink it!
I then capture 4-5 qualities (adjectives) that describe the person I think God is asking me to be or become today. My examples from this morning included, SIMPLE, TRUTH-FILLED, APPRECIATIVE, HELPFUL, QUIETER. Some change often and some stay around a week or more. Again, don’t overthink it!
I them write a short scripture that I am attempting to memorize during the week (Sun-Sat).
That’s it! In total, I spend less than 5-minutes on this exercise. I’ve been at this for years now. And here is the good news.
I’VE NEVER BEEN MORE CONTENT, FULFILLED, PEACEFUL, AND HAPPY in my entire life. I know for a fact that putting intentional gratitude into my daily routine changed everything. I have had the privilege of helping a lot of people do the same, and every one of us can give you the same story – IT JUST WORKS!
In a world and a season that id fraught with anxiety, stress, weariness, and depression, you have everything to gain with this sustainable practice is proven scientifically, psychologically, and spiritually to greatly improve your life.
GET AFTER GRATITUDE!
“The greatest source of happiness is the ability to be grateful at all times.”-ZIG ZIGLAR
Go in Peace & Gratitude, Chuck