Why Gratitude is the One Great Spiritual Practice

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever! – Psalm 107:1

If you were trapped on a desert island and could only have one book, what would it be?

If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

These are the kinds of crazy questions my friends and I discussed as kids.

Recently someone asked me a similar question, “If you could only do one spiritual practice, what would it be?” What an interesting question. And not an easy one to answer. But the more I thought about it the clearer the answer became: gratitude. I would practice gratitude.

Practicing gratitude connects my heart to God, reminding me that God is the giver of all good things. It changes the way I see the world, from scarcity to abundance. It produces joy and stirs me to greater generosity. And that’s not just my experience.

Neuroscience continues to discover the amazing benefits of practicing gratitude. Those benefits include:

  • Improved physical, emotional and social well-being
  • Greater optimism and happiness,
  • Improved feelings of connection in times of loss or crises
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Heightened energy levels
  • Strengthened heart, immune system, and decreased blood pressure
  • Improved emotional and academic intelligence
  • Expanded capacity for forgiveness
  • Decreased stress, anxiety, depression and headaches
  • Improved self-care and greater likelihood to exercise
  • Heightened spirituality — ability to see something bigger than ourselves

Not bad for a single spiritual practice! No wonder the bible encourages disciples to give thanks to God. Gratitude changes us in profound ways.

This season of Thanksgiving is a great time to commit to a regular practice of gratitude. Try keeping a gratitude journal, writing down one or two things each morning you’re grateful for. I also find it helpful to do a brief gratitude meditation each day. Here’s one you can try:

  • Get into a comfortable seated position.
  • Relax with eyes closed and let your body settle into your chair.
  • Take a few deep breaths, relaxing the mind and body.
  • Think about “What am I really grateful for?” Take whatever comes to mind first and build on that thought.
  • Expand upon the story of this positive experience or memory.
  • Savor this experience and allow it to sink into the recesses of mind and body.
  • Intensify this feeling even further by vividly visualizing this memory.
  • Keep that experience in mind longer than usual to deeply embed positivity into the brain. Research reveals that savoring gratitude for at least 15 seconds has the greatest impact in changing our neural pathways and the way we see the world.

Try this meditation first thing in the morning or last thing at night for a week, and see what a difference it makes in your attitude.

The Thanksgiving holiday is over, but I hope your practice of gratitude is not. Let daily gratitude shape your heart, your mind and your faith. It really is the one great spiritual practice!

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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Comments
  • Bonnie Featherstone
    Reply

    Thank you Jeff.
    The practice has enriched my life. It has helped me to see and experience so many more gifts in my life.

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