A few years ago, university psychologists conducted a research project on gratitude and thanksgiving. They divided participants into two groups. People in the first group practiced daily exercises like writing in a gratitude journal.
They reported higher levels of alertness, determination, optimism, energy, and less depression and stress than the control group. Not surprisingly, they were also a lot happier than those who were told to keep an account of all the bad things that happened each day.
One of the psychologists concluded that though a practice of gratitude is a key to most religions, its benefits extend to the general population, regardless of faith or no faith. He suggested that anyone can increase his sense of well-being just from counting his blessings.
But – and this is a BIG BUT - what do you do when you lose your job? You’re estranged from your children? Your parents die? Your marriage is mediocre – or worse? Your friend betrays you? You get cancer?
Two Types of Gratitude
One is secondary, the other primary.
The secondary type
The secondary type is gratitude for blessings received. Life, health, home, family, freedom, Cubs winning the World’s Series (2016, in case you forgot) — it’s a mindset of active thankfulness for good gifts. The great preacher and American theologian Jonathan Edwards called thanks for these kinds of blessings “natural gratitude.” It’s a good thing, but this gratitude doesn’t come naturally — if at all — when things go badly. We cannot rely on this type of gratitude when life goes sour.
Edwards calls the deeper, primary type of thankfulness “radical gratitude.” It is not about the things we receive or experience, but about the character of God. It is a response to knowing and understanding God’s amazing grace and love. It gives thanks, not because of the stuff we get, but because God loves us.
This radical gratitude goes to the heart of who we are. It is relational, rather than conditional. Even if our world shatters, we stay intact because we know we are deeply loved by God. And that will never change. People who are filled with this radical gratitude are unstoppable, irrepressible, overflowing with what C. S. Lewis called “the good infection” — the supernatural, refreshing love of God that draws others to Him.
If you want to grow a grateful heart (or a more grateful heart)– start today.
- Make a list of 10 things you are grateful for. Be sure to include both those things which are natural and those things which are radical.
- Do this for a week.
Life can have some amazing highs as well as some challenging lows. Love, joy, peace, pain, loss, sadness. Our circumstances will change. Most of which are beyond our control. There is no question about that. That’s the nature of life. However, regardless of the height of the mountaintops or the depth of the valleys - we can experience joy if we develop a heart of radical gratitude.