By Keith Barnhart, Pastor, Edgewood Baptist Church
Many years ago a magazine related the story of a young man by the name of Ben who had a habit of grumbling. He complained about the weather, found fault with his family and friends, and allowed the smallest things to upset him. Does that describe any of us?
One day he read this rhyme: “When you have truly thanked the Lord for every blessing sent, then you’ll have very little time to murmur or lament.”
He realized that his spirit of discontent had made him over look the gifts God was constantly showering on him. Ben determined that with God’s help he would rid himself of this habit. So whenever he became irritated or began to complain, he would stop and thank God for the many good things he was enjoying. It worked! By centering his attention on praising rather than grumbling, he found it much easier to avoid a grouchy mood
Gratitude is nothing less than the key to happiness. For this penetrating insight into gratefulness, I am grateful to Dennis Prager, author of the shrewd and perceptive “Happiness is a Serious Problem.”
“There is a ‘secret to happiness,’” Prager writes, “and it is gratitude. All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that it is being unhappy that leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that it is complaining that leads to people becoming unhappy. Become grateful and you will become a much happier person.”
This is a keen observation, and it helps explain why the Judeo-Christian tradition places such emphasis on thanking God. The liturgy is filled with expressions of gratitude. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord,” begins the 92nd Psalm. Why? Because God needs our gratitude? No: because we need it. Learning to be thankful, whether to God or to other people, is the best vaccination against taking good fortune for granted. And the less you take for granted, the more pleasure and joy life will bring you.
A few years ago Dr. Nick Stinnett of the University of Nebraska conducted a group of studies called the “Family Strengths Research Project” Stinnett and his researchers identified six qualities that make for strong families. The first quality and one of the most important to be found in strong families was the quality of appreciation. Families are strong in part, Dr. Stinnett concludes, because family members express to each other their appreciation for what the other members DO and for who they ARE.
In a similar study another researcher looked into the effect of praise in the workplace. His study showed that the ratio of praise to criticism in the workplace needs to be four to one before employees feel that there is a balance – that there must be four times as much praise as there is criticism before they feel good about their work and about the environment they work in.
That is pretty staggering information – information that tells us that if we want to do something good, that if we want to have a healthy family, a strong workplace, a blessed church or any other effective group, we need to be sure that appreciation, praise, and thanksgiving are heard at least four times as often as is criticism.
The art of thanksgiving is gratitude in action. It is thanking God for the gift of life by living it triumphantly. It is thanking God for your talents and abilities by accepting them as obligations to be invested for the common good. It is thanking God for all that men and women have done for you by doing things for others. It is thanking God for happiness by striving to make others happy. It is thanking God for beauty by helping to make the world more beautiful. It is thanking God for inspiration by trying to be an inspiration to others. Gratitude is indeed the key to happiness.