The Practice of Gratitude

Gratitude is an Essential Part of Life at The Elms

Many thanks to Rev. Cal Lord for this article published in the Westerly Sun this past July.

You can read the full article here: Search for happiness begins with gratitude. 

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Happy wife, happy life.”

It is advice that is often given to young men who are getting married. The idea is simple. You will find happiness if you treat your spouse well. Who isn’t searching for happiness? It isn’t something new. The pursuit of happiness is even mentioned in the Declaration of Independence as one of the God-given unalienable rights.

Yet happiness, in itself, is quite elusive.

You can’t buy it. It can’t be manufactured. It won’t be found in your dream job or even in that perfect spouse. Happiness can only be found in a grateful heart. Brother David Steindl-Rast says that living with a sense of gratitude is the key to finding happiness. Contrary to what many believe, happiness doesn’t make you grateful. Gratefulness makes you happy.

“It is all about your attitude,” says Karen Hawthorn. In her work as the resident services coordinator at The Elms Retirement Residence, Karen began searching for new ways to engage the residents back in 2019 in a time when vitriol was extremely prevalent. In her search for ideas, she came across several resources that pointed to gratitude as a means of finding satisfaction in life.

Dr. Robert Emmons has written extensively on the power of gratitude. He says “Gratitude heals, energizes and transforms lives.” In his short book, “The Little Book of Gratitude,” he quotes an article written in 2015 in the journal Scientific American. “Out of 24 strengths, including love, hope, kindness, and creativity, the best predictor of good relationships and emotional well-being was gratitude.”

Neuroscientist Rick Hanson takes it a step further. He suggests that living with an attitude of gratitude changes the makeup of our brains. When you focus on the things you are grateful for, the brain begins to look for more things to be thankful for. We become what we focus on. So he strongly suggests we focus on the blessings we have in our lives. It is the kind of advice that the Apostle Paul gives us in the Bible.

We read in Philippians 4, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

These are things to treasure. They enrich us as we go through our days.

Residents at The Elms have embraced this practice. They look for the blessings and then fill out a slip with things they are thankful for. They drop the slips into the “Gratitude Jar” outside her office. Every Saturday morning Karen shares these with her group.

Everyone leaves their meeting feeling better and looking for more things to be thankful for throughout the week.

Our life changes when we begin recognizing the little gifts that God gives us each day. A hug from a friend, a door held open for us, another driver in heavy traffic letting us in, a surprise visit from a loved one, coming home to your favorite meal: these all become reasons to pause and give thanks. Once you begin to acknowledge these gifts, a funny thing happens. You begin looking for ways to bless others.

Imagine what would happen if all of us decided to adopt this practice? The world would change. Let’s not just imagine it. In the words of the famous philosopher from Star Trek lore, Captain Jean Luc Picard, “Let’s make it so!”

The Rev. Cal Lord is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Westerly.

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