Taking time to give thanks to God & others in our lives is such a vital practice. We can be tempted to miss the point of this practice. I know I’ve met folks who’ve said “I can’t believe God asks people to thank and praise God. What an insecure, needy deity you have there if God needs to constantly be patted on the head!”
Yet the invitation to thank and praise God is not for God’s benefit, but our own. Taking time to focus on gratefulness for the various gifts in your life, for accomplishments, for those you love, actually is good for your emotional and mental health. Modern psychological studies have found that those who have some regular practice of gratitude have more psychological resiliency, less lasting & extreme depression & other negative health symptoms, and are better able to be forward-looking at life. (For article on one of the many researchers on this topic, see http://sharpbrains.com/blog/2007/11/29/robert-emmons-on-the-positive-psychology-of-gratitude/) This is true whether a daily journal of things one is grateful for, regularly writing thank you notes to those who had blessed you, or (as Scripture suggests), regular times of prayer and meditation aimed specifically at expressing gratitude to God while strengthening your own awareness of what you are grateful for.
Taking time to regularly express gratitude helps reorient your view of life. Especially when you are going through a difficult or dark time, as well as those times when you simply are exhausted or in a rocky transition, it is easy for the negatives in your life to become the only things you are mindful of. Regular gratitude practices help you to hold before you also the joys, pleasures, accomplishments, and serendipitous experiences of grace.
Combining gratitude practice with ways of explicitly reaching out to God such as times of prayer, Christian meditation, songs of thanks & praise, also fosters a deeper sense of intimacy, connection with, and openness to God which is central to learning to walk the path of the One who called God “abba” or “daddy, momma”, our Savior Jesus the Christ. I think with Jesus’ focus on how spirituality was not just loving God but loving others as ourselves it is clear the value in gratitude practices which build connections with others such as regularly writing notes of gratitude thanking others for their blessings in your life.
For ideas about some easy ways to implement gratitude in your life, check out this article by a positive psychologist: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/07/21/5-ways-to-practice-gratitude-an-interview-with-sonja-lyubomirsky/
This psalm particularly focuses on an aspect of gratitude we might overlook in a normal gratitude practice: taking time to remember God’s gift in the experiences of our life, our history, and the history of our community in which we are a part. I know for me I can get bogged down in the moment, feeling as if this trial or transition will never end, being discouraged. The Psalmist’s advice to remember to thank God for the different ways we felt and experienced God’s guidance in our lives, and in the lives of others we know or who came before us, has when I have followed it helped me put the struggles of the moment into perspective.
I’ve realized, you know, I’ve gotten through worse and here is how God and others helped me through. I’ve seen how I could connect with that sense of God’s peace, protection, and guidance. I’ve realized too that what I faced is like what others have faced, helping remove that lonely isolated feeling that can overtake me in trial.
I’d be interested to hear what gratitude practices are a part of your life and how they help you, as well as how such practices might be a part of your spiritual life and relationship with God.