Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
Steve Wright, M.A.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-19, NIV
Several years ago I went skiing with a friend. It was a beautiful day, not too cold and lots of sunshine. I was hopeful I could master this sport because I wasn’t very good at it.
My objective on that day was to make it down the intermediate hill that had all of the moguls. I had made several attempts and fallen each time. By the end of the day, as the part was close to closing, I told my friend that I wanted to try one more time before we departed.
I hopped on the ski lift, made it to the top, jumped off and started down the mogul hill. I made the first two or three moguls and was feeling pretty good about myself when suddenly it was sky, ground, sky, ground, sky, ground, and I found myself lying on my back, taking assessment of my body parts, with one ski on and one off.
Fortunately, everything was attached, but as I sat up and put weight on my arm, I felt an intense pain in my wrist. Sure enough, it was broken. In the coming days, all I could focus on was that pain.
Mental and emotional pain are just the same. When it hurts inside, the only thing we can think about is the pain. One way to help pull our eyes off of our pain and off of our selves is to begin to experience thankfulness and gratitude. When we develop a heart of gratitude and experience real thankfulness it can help change our perspective and help us grow.
Research shows that gratitude often results in a stronger sense of well-being for the person experiencing gratitude. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies regarding the link between gratitude and well-being. His research shows that gratitude can greatly increase a person’s happiness, and also reduce depression.1
Gratitude is experienced relationally, and often times it is experienced through the act of giving. We show gratitude to God when we give Him thanks and praise, and we can show gratitude to our clients by giving them a listening ear, a patient heart, and safe environment for them to feel comfortable. By giving these things and showing gratitude, it allows the client to be open and receptive and can give them a positive therapeutic experience.
It also serves to turn our thoughts outward toward others, rather than inward toward ourselves and our pain. Gratitude can be that one thing we experience to set us on the path to growth or recovery. I think that is why Paul wrote “give thanks in all circumstances.” Paul was imprisoned, and yet he still thanked and gave praise to God and used his circumstance to further the kingdom of God. That gratitude helps us avoid sinking into despair and helps us gain a better perspective.
1Emmons, R.A., McCullough, M. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.
Steve Wright, M.A., is currently a therapist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center located in the Chicago area. He served for more than 25 years as a minister working in churches with youth, families and as a senior pastor. As a counselor, he worked in residential treatment as a therapist, supervisor, coordinator, and program director first in the substance abuse field and then in the eating disorder field.
Steve’s Bachelor’s degree is in Biblical Studies from Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He also has a Master of Arts in Teaching from Olivet University and a Master of Arts in Community Counseling from Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Chicago.