Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, being grateful also helps people connect to something larger than themselves – to a higher power. Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Gratitude can be felt and expressed in multiple ways. Gratitude can be directed to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of childhood or past blessings), the present (not taking good fortune for granted as it comes), and the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude).
God commands us to be grateful:
D&C 59:7 Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.
Ephesians 5:20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
1 Thessalonians 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you
Mosiah 26:39 And they did admonish their brethren; and they were also admonished, everyone by the word of God, according to his sins, or to the sins which he had committed, being commanded of God to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things.
Alma 7:23 And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
Doctrine and Covenants 98:1 Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks.
Psalm 147:7 Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God:
Alma 37:37 Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings; and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.
Why be grateful?
Clinical psychology shows three benefits of gratitude
Psychological: positive emotion leading to enhanced mood, less depression
Social: more empathy leading to stronger relationships
Physical: Stronger immune system leading to less pain
Why does God command us to be grateful?
President Monson stated: To express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven.
We are commanded to be grateful because the act of gratitude is transformative. D&C 78:19 states “And he who receives all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.” All of His commandments are given to make blessings available to us. Commandments are opportunities to exercise our agency and receive blessings. Our loving Heavenly Father knows that choosing to develop a spirit of gratitude will bring us true joy and great happiness.
Elder Uchtdorf spoke eloquently of difference between being grateful for things vs being grateful in our circumstances. Perhaps focusing on what we are grateful for is the wrong approach. It is difficult to develop a spirit of gratitude if our thankfulness is only proportional to the number of blessings we can count. While it is true that we should count our blessings (and my family does a thankful tree every year, not unlike the one the primary has recently bestowed upon the bishop’s door) but I don’t believe the Lord expects us to be less thankful in times of trial than in times of abundance and ease. In fact, most of the scriptural references do not speak of gratitude for things but rather suggest an overall spirit or attitude of gratitude.
Having a constant spirit of gratitude makes it easier to be grateful when life is not going our way. We should see gratitude as a disposition, as a way of life that stands independent of our current situation. Instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances.
An old story illustrates this example.
There once was a waiter who asked a customer if he had enjoyed the meal. The guest replied that everything was fine, but it would have been better if they had served more bread. The next day, when the man returned to the restaurant, the waiter doubled the amount of bread, giving him four slices instead of two, but still the man was not happy. The next day, the waiter doubled the bread again, without success.
On the fourth day, the waiter was really determined to make the man happy. And so he took a 9 foot long loaf of bread and cut it in half, and with a smile, served both pieces to the customer. The waiter could scarcely wait for the man’s reaction.
After the meal, the man looked up and said, “Good as always. But I see you’re back to giving only two slices of bread.”
As a physician I come across people dealing with all manner of afflictions. Some people are born with disease, whose only poor decision in life was picking the wrong parents. Others are victims of their own agency but either way, the burden their afflictions placed upon them is either compounded or, in part, alleviated by their general attitude. They can either be grateful for the things they do have or lament the loss of what they used to know. Quality of life and even life expectancy are improved in those who live with gratitude.
What blessings does God promise in return, as we live in gratitude? The Lord has promised that our hearts will change as we live in thankfulness.
Changing Hearts with Gratitude
· Thomas Nielson was a 63-year-old energetic and successful brick mason. He enjoyed his work and especially enjoyed working with his oldest grandchild, Jonathan when Jonathan was on break during school vacations. The two developed a special bond, in part because Tom saw much of himself in Jonathan.
When Tom turned 63 he was diagnosed with heart failure. Medical treatments were failing him and he was placed on the transplant list, where he waited for a donor heart. Tom found waiting for a donor heart to be frustrating. He was not a particularly patient man. He had always been able to set and achieve goals through hard work and sheer determination. Tom felt like his life was put on hold while waiting for a donor heart, he would even joke with his physician about possible avenues that they could pursue that would make a donor heart available sooner.
One joyous yet dreadful day, an ideal donor heart became available. The size and the blood type were a match, and the donor was young, just 16 years old. The donor heart belonged to Jonathan, Tom’s beloved grandson. Earlier that day, Jonathan had been fatally injured when the car in which he was riding was struck by a passing train.
Upon hearing the news that his grandson could be his donor, Tom and his wife were distraught. It is hard to imagine what they were going through, knowing that Tom’s life could be extended by using their grandson’s heart. At first, they refused to consider the proffered heart from Jonathon’s grieving parents, their daughter and son-in-law. Tom and his wife Donna knew, though, that Jonathan was brain dead, and came to understand that their prayers for a donor heart for Tom had not caused Jonathan’s accident. No, Jonathan’s heart was a gift that could bless Tom in his time need. In fact, of the four teenagers riding in the car that day, three others had died instantly, while only Jonathan survived long-enough to be placed on life support in a hospital where he could provide the gift of life to his beloved grandfather. Tom and Donna recognized that something good might come out of this tragedy and decided to proceed with the donor heart transplantation.
The transplant procedures went well. Afterward, Tom was a different man. The change went beyond improved health or even gratitude. He reflected every morning on Jonathan, on his daughter and son in law, on the gift he had received, and on what that gift required. Even though his innate good humor and grit were still readily apparent, Tom was more solemn, thoughtful, and kindhearted.
Tom lived an additional 13 years after the transplant, years he otherwise would not have had. His obituary states that these years allowed him to touch the lives of his family and other with generosity and love. He was a private benefactor and an example of optimism and determination.
Brothers and sisters, each of us has received gifts that we could not provide for ourselves, gifts from our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, including redemption through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Because of Christ we all have a donor heart waiting for us. We have received life in this world; we will receive physical life in the hereafter, and eternal salvation and exaltation – if we choose it – all because of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
Every time we use, benefit from, or even think of these gifts, we ought to consider the sacrifice, generosity, and compassion of the givers. Reverence for the givers does more than just make us grateful. Reflecting on Their gifts can and should transform us.
Ezekiel 36: 26-28 states: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgements, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people. And I will be your God.”
Let’s break that down: The Lord will replace our hearts. He will replace our stony hearts (much like Tom received a replacement for his stiff, sinewy, and stony failing heart) we too will have the stony heart taken out from us. To be replaced with an heart of flesh. What can a heart of flesh accept that a stony heart cannot? 2Corinthians 3:3 states that the new covenant is “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” Jeremiah states that a new covenant will be made with the house of Israel, “After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Hebrews 8:10 tells us, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” As a contrast, the scriptures are replete with examples of men hardening their hearts against the Lord and we are told that the temptations of Satan will harden our hearts. Gratitude is the antidote.
Indeed, the 51st psalm even states that “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart.” The broken heart was to be given to God, burnt offerings alone were not sufficient. The Lord clearly states that following his great and last sacrifice, all “burnt offerings should be done away, for I will accept none of them, and ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.”
Gratitude to our Father in Heaven broadens our perception and clears our vision. It inspires humility and fosters empathy toward our fellowmen and all of God’s creation. Gratitude is a catalyst to all Christlike attributes. A thankful heart is the parent of all virtues.
So let’s revisit D&C 78:19 one more time. “And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.” To be made glorious is to receive God’s glory, his work and glory is to bring to pass the exaltation and eternal life of man. To receive all things of this earth, even an hundred fold more is to partake fully in the new and everlasting covenant. To receive all things with thankfulness puts you on the covenant path. This is why it is a commandment of God. Isn’t it amazing how through small and simple things we can become changed.
Ways to cultivate gratitude:
Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. This mental states grows stronger with practice.
We were challenged by President Nelson a couple years ago to turn social media into your own personal gratitude journal, at the end of 7 days see if you feel happier and more at peace. He offered us a way to practice gratitude by Uniting in thanking God through daily prayer. Prayer brings forth miracles. Other ways to increase gratitude in our lives include
Write thank you notes
Thank someone mentally
Keep a gratitude journal
Count your blessings
Gratitude is a mental state that will not only lead to happiness in this life but true glory in the eternities. It does this the same way all commandments work, not by acting like a box to be checked off, but by changing our very nature and character from within, even within the fleshy tables of our heart. God wants us to return to Him. He wants to give us everything he has, so that we may become everything He is, and commandments are given so that we may begin the journey to change ourselves to become more like Him. This is my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Grateful in any circumstance, Elder Uchtdorf 2014
Consider the greatness and goodness of God, Elder Renlund 2020