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A Resurgence in Gratitude

There is no doubt that gratitude has become a popular topic in recent years.


A quick foray into social media reveals that #thankful continues to be the object of many pretty memes. A discerning shopper can fill her home with daily reminders of the need for gratitude, from the ‘Give Thanks’ exhortation on her coffee mug to the ‘Grateful’ artwork on the living room wall.


Thankfulness has been the subject of many best-selling self-help books in the last couple of decades. There has also been a profusion of scientific research into the psychology of gratitude. Numerous experts have touted the importance of thankfulness for leading a happy and healthy life.


For instance, studies have demonstrated that people who regularly express thankfulness enjoy its results through an alleviation of stress: “When you are grateful, all the signposts of stress, like anger, anxiety and worry, diminish.”[1] Similarly, making a commitment to gratitude is said to enrich interpersonal love, encourage well-being, improve patterns of sleep, even increase life expectancy.


In order to promote thankfulness, psychologists recommend mindfulness practices like the Daily Gratitude Inventory.[2] Individuals may cultivate a more grateful spirit by pausing in the midst of the daily busyness, reviewing their various gifts, relishing the value and worth of these gifts, and then responding with appreciation.


The popularity of “gratitude journals”—in which you’re meant to record a few of the good things that you received and appreciated every day—reflects the same good impulse: I want to be a thankful person.

This broad recognition of the importance of gratitude is remarkable.

When we see in Scripture how fundamental thankfulness should be in the life of a believer who fears God, it is striking to find the same emphasis among those who don’t know God through Christ. And there are useful insights to be gained through their reflections and mindfulness exercises.


But God-less gratitude is ultimately an empty gratitude. Vague notions of ‘feeling good for the good things you have’ is not at all like the gratitude a Christian learns to practice. In an approach that often has little place for God, secular gratitude becomes a means to enhance our own life, not a response to the Giver.


The numerous personal benefits of thankfulness are trumpeted, so that gratitude actually becomes a path to personal happiness.


Through being a more grateful person, I will improve my own life and outlook.


Through my thankfulness for these good gifts, I will be able to attract more good gifts.


Ironically, this self-focused gratitude is an inversion of what true gratitude is meant to be: a worshipful response to the One who has shown us His endless generosity.


In answer to the question, “What does it mean to repay in life?” Os Guinness observes, “By its very character, the modern world answers: You owe nothing. By its very character, the Christian gospel answers: You owe everything.”[3]


Whatever psychologists have advocated or etiquette experts advised, thanksgiving has always been the holy response of God’s people. Not just for one day per year, but our whole lives long, God desires that His children be filled with gratitude:


And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col 3:17).


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[1] Janice Kaplan, The Gratitude Diaries (London: Yellow Kite Books, 2015), 194.

[2] Charles M. Shelton, The Gratitude Factor: Enhancing Your Life Through Grateful Living (Mahwah, N.J.: HiddenSpring, 2010), 23.

[3] Os Guinness, The Call, Revised and Expanded 20th Anniversary ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2018), 259.

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