When most of us reflect on this past year, our first thoughts may not be pleasant ones. We may think about our hardships. We may feel overwhelmed with loss. We may be reminded how COVID has wreaked havoc and chaos in our own lives and the lives of our loved ones. If this is the case, how do you feel about 2022?
Gratitude is not based upon what happens to you. Gratitude is not based upon your life circumstances. Gratitude, being grateful, is a conscious choice we make, even during pain and chaos. Even in your pain, financial hardship, loss, relationship challenges, you ALWAYS can be grateful. Yes, indeed! There is always something to be thankful for. When you dream about 2022, what do you see? Even if you have a lack of hope, you can always look forward to the future with a grateful heart. It is a grateful mindset anticipating God’s presence and empowerment that will allow you to overcome the greatest obstacles and barriers of 2022.
It has been shown to be one of the most important of all emotions and has been described to the “mother of all virtues”. Scientific studies show having a mindset of gratitude yields great blessings:
- Gratitude helps you sleep better
According to a 2011 study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well Being, if you spend 15 minutes before bed reflecting and writing down a few statements of gratitude, you likely will sleep longer and better. Gratitude activates the hypothalamus of the brain which contributes to optimized sleep.
- Gratitude can help improve relationships
According to a study in 2014 in Emotion, individuals who thank a new acquaintance are more likely to have more relationships. Therefore, taking a moment to thank someone else for what they do can lead to improved relationships. When you are grateful for someone or something, you are more likely to respond with kindness and other forms of generosity. The result is improved relationships.
- Gratitude improves your brain and your physical health
In a study in Personality and Individual Differences in 2012, it was shown that Individuals who are more grateful tend to take care of their own bodies better. They also are more likely to exercise and have ongoing medical checkups which contributes to better health outcomes. Dopamine is released when one is grateful. The increase surge in dopamine can help increase motivation and pleasure. Dopamine can also help with cognitive flexibility. It has been shown that gratitude activates the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain which is attributed to higher order processing and attention (Kini et. al, 2015).
- Gratitude can reduce the effects of trauma
An article in Behavior Research and Therapy in 2006 demonstrated that many Vietnam war veterans who show more gratitude show less trauma related symptoms.
- Gratitude can help to reduce our tendency to compare ourselves to others
There have been some studies that show people who are grateful will have less resentment toward others for their accomplishments. Gratitude blocks toxic emotions such as envy and resentment which hinders our ability to be happy
- Gratitude enhance empathy and reduces aggression
In a study by the University of Kentucky in 2012, individuals who ranked higher on gratitude were less likely to seek retaliation toward others and experienced more empathy toward others, even in the midst of negative feedback.
Science supports gratitude. In addition, Scripture also shows us the importance and value of gratitude:
1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “ALWAYS be thankful in ALL circumstances for this is God’s will for you.” The scripture does not say to be thankful for all circumstances, but to be thankful IN all circumstances. That does not mean that you will be thankful for COVID or that you will be thankful for your loss of your job or thankful for your financial struggles, but that you will be thankful in ALL situations.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 says, “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty. YET, I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength!” This verse is Habakkuk reminds me of the perils that we have experienced in COVID, and it is certainly relevant for us in the year 2022.
Here are some other great Bible references for you to reflect upon:
Ecclesiastes 11:8 (TEV): “Be grateful for every year you live”
Psalm 118:1 (CEV): “Tell the Lord how thankful you are because He is kind and always merciful”
Psalm 16:7 (TEV): “I praise the Lord, because he guides me”
Psalm 13:5 (NCV): “My heart is happy because you saved me”
Psalm 147:7 (LB): “Sing out your thanks to Him; sing praises to our God”
Colossians 3:17: “So now, everything you do or say should be done in the name of our Lord Jesus with thanksgiving to God the Father”
As you begin 2022, I want to challenge you to make a list of 100 things you are grateful for this past year, and 100 things you are thankful for this coming year. I want to ask you to take a focused effort at doing this to see how this impact your mood. Focus on these things and see how this impacts your emotional health. For those who actually do this, I want to invite you to share how this has impacted you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!
Rather than complain about the things you think you deserve, take a few moments each day to focus on what you have.
Let’s strive to reflect on the year 2021 with a grateful heart, and let’s seek to live in the present with gratitude and thanksgiving in our hearts and mind.