Psychology Suggests Belief In God Enhances Gratitude

The Lima family, from left, Abraham, Maria, Deborah, Bella, Nehemias and Abraham Jr., sit down and pray before Thanksgiving dinner. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)
The Lima family, from left, Abraham, Maria, Deborah, Bella, Nehemias and Abraham Jr., sit down and pray before Thanksgiving dinner. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Recent findings in positive psychology point to the enormous psychological and even physical benefits of gratitude. Giving thanks leads to increased energy, generosity, enthusiasm, sociability, health and resiliency in the face of stress. Gratitude is an empirically proven path to a longer, happier life.

But what exactly is gratitude? In his book “Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” psychology professor Robert Emmons defines it as “a willingness to recognize (a) that one has been the beneficiary of someone’s kindness, (b) that the benefactor has intentionally provided a benefit, often incurring some personal cost and (c) that the benefit has value in the eyes of the beneficiary.” Gratitude, an inherently social trait, always involves a benefit, a benefactor and a beneficiary. Emmons further distinguishes different facets of a grateful disposition such as span, frequency, intensity and density.

Span refers to the number of things for which a person is grateful. Some people are grateful for just a few things; others have thankfulness for countless gifts including family, friends, work and possessions.

Frequency refers to how often a person is thankful. Does a person feel grateful once a year on Thanksgiving Day or many times in the course of each day?

Intensity refers to the depth of feeling that someone experiences over a benefit received. For example, if someone gives us a gift but we believe malevolent motives are behind the giving, our gratitude intensity is dampened, if not extinguished.

Density refers to how many people we are grateful to for a particular good thing. Say a husband and wife have lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. The husband with low gratitude density might be grateful only to the waiter. The wife with high gratitude density is grateful to the waiter, the kitchen help, the cooks, the truckers who brought the food to the restaurant and the farmers who grew the food.

Does belief in God influence the span, frequency, intensity or density of gratitude?

If we believe in God, we have a greater span of things for which to be grateful. For example, our life is not a mere chance happening, but ultimately the result of a loving God’s providential care. Gratitude requires a benefactor who intentionally provides a benefit. Without God, our life is merely a chance accident of reproduction. Given faith, however, our existence is not a chance occurrence, but a divine blessing. Indeed, all the seemingly random good things in life can be seen as gifts from a loving God, for which thankfulness is appropriate.

Since believers have more for which to be grateful, they are also grateful more often. If every good thing in life is ultimately the result of the creation of a loving God, occasions of gratitude abound. In the words of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Flowers, sunsets, warm breezes become gifts of the Creator.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post
Christopher Kaczor


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