“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” –William Arthur Ward
In the late 1980s, David Snowdon, a professor at the University of Minnesota, embarked on what would become a groundbreaking study of the human mind. In the study, Dr. Snowdon observed a group of over 600 nuns in Germany. As part of the study, the nuns were each subjected to annual tests for cognitive function, including memory.
In the multiple decades of data generated by the study, there have been many notable discoveries. The data tell us that the nuns who practiced daily acts of gratitude, including writing down specific things and people for which they were grateful, are significantly less likely to develop cognitive impairments like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
The benefits of gratitude, however, extend beyond the latter years of life. Author and researcher Brené Brown describes a striking finding in her research. Says Brown, “The relationship between joy and gratitude was one of the important things I found in my research. I wasn’t expecting it. In my 12 years of research on 11,000 pieces of data, I did not interview one person who had described themselves as joyful, who didn’t also actively practice gratitude.”
Pondering and Practicing Gratitude
With the holiday season just around the corner, it’s a great time of year to ponder gratitude. I invite you to take a few moments right now to think about the people for which you’re grateful. Don’t be afraid to ask God to bring people to mind. How would your life be different if they weren’t there? Now, let’s ask ourselves what would change if we were to act on it? How would your life be different if you practiced gratitude? What if you prayed and then told the people God brought to mind how grateful you were for them? What if we were to show them a small kindness that demonstrates the value we have for them while expecting nothing in return?
Finally, make sure to express your gratitude to God! There’s a question that’s been floating around on social media for a few years. It asks, “What if you woke up tomorrow with only what you thanked God for today?” I’m keenly aware of my tendency to give God credit for the significant things in my life while forgetting to thank Him for the more common, daily things that are no less a blessing.
Let’s grow in gratitude together. Let’s be intentional about acting on it—expressing it to others, and most importantly, to God. We may receive improved cognitive health as we age, we may receive joy. But more important than what we receive is what we give.