Many cultures around the world have a unique way of offering grace before a meal, whether over a bowl of pasta or a plate of pad thai. As a Baby Boomer, I remember saying grace as a family each evening – a moment to reflect on not only the bounty before us, but also other blessings of the day.
However, statistics show the ritual of saying grace before a meal is trending downward with less than half of us today taking a quiet moment to express gratitude.
This shift is happening for lots of different reasons. I have wondered if one of the reasons for this reticence to give gratitude is a fear that goodness can be limited in our lives – that we can experience limited health, limited income, limited happiness.
Why is gratitude important? How can it impact this limited feeling?
Ask Robert Emmons, professor at the University of California, Davis, who is acknowledged as today’s pre-eminent expert in the study of gratitude. His studies have shown that a conscious focus on blessings improved moods, coping skills and overall physical well-being.
Emmons says, ‘Gratitude is one of the few things that can measurably heal, energize and change people’s lives. It is a turning of the mind, not what I don’t have, but what I have already.’
My friend Carol found that a conscious focus on blessings did measurably improve her health when everyone around her had the flu. She awoke one morning with the symptoms, but instead of reacting with fear, she immediately started thinking about everything she had to be grateful for. She acknowledged the ever-present, divine source of all good in her life. Her sense of the goodness God gives is that it includes health, and that good is never limited since divinity is, by nature, eternal and all encompassing. Very quickly, she felt totally well, and went about her day.
The flip side of the grateful coin is ingratitude that blocks our ability to see what we already have. Mary Baker Eddy, theologian and author, asks the pointed question: “Are we really grateful for the good already received?” And follows with this promise: “Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more.”
Being grateful even before good is evident, is also illustrated in a well-known Bible story. When Jesus was faced with feeding a crowd of thousands, right in the midst of what looked like real lack he saw what his disciples did not – that since God is infinite good and present everywhere, there could be no limit to the divine provision for the crowd.
Jesus gave thanks for what they had and then instructed his disciples to feed the people. Remember the ending? Substantial leftovers!
If true health, provision, and happiness come from an understanding that the good in our life has a constant source in the Divine, then we can and should acknowledge frequently that good is ongoing and infinite. And we can do that even when the picture of limited health or limited supply presents itself.
For all of its apparent benefits, practising gratitude is a good idea! Pairing it each day – however briefly – with an activity we enjoy (like meals), can help to make gratitude a more regular part of our lives.
This article is published in Metroland News editions throughout Ontario such as Simcoe.com