Posted by: Philip Rushton | November 23, 2011

Gratitude and Well-being

As thanksgiving approaches this week I thought I’d devote some space on the blog to the theme of gratitude. The practice of giving thanks is something deeply embedded in our Christian tradition. In the Old Testament, gratitude is modeled for us by David in the psalms. In psalm 42 and 43, for example, David responds to hardship and pessimism by remembering to praise God. In the midst of difficulty he repeatedly says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Our prime example in the New Testament is the Apostle Paul. Even as he faces imprisonment, shipwrecks, and opposition, he maintains a spirit of thanksgiving and joy. Thankfulness appears to be a key to counteracting pessimism and hopelessness.

I have always been interested in looking at how modern psychological research evaluates the significance of these spiritual practices. In recent years, psychologists have begun to study the power that gratitude can have on our sense of well-being. While psychological research originally focused on studying the roots of dysfunction, a new movement called positive psychology developed in the 80’s and 90’s that sought to understand the roots of well-being. Numerous studies have shown that grateful people are happier, more satisfied with life, less depressed, able to cope better with challenges, and have a higher sense of purpose (1). I know I have experienced this in my life. Gratitude has the ability to redirect me in a positive direction when I find myself discouraged and pessimistic.

One of the areas where I think we might be able to increase our practice of gratitude is in our prayer life. For many of us I think prayer is often limited to asking God for help. Yet, David models for us in the psalms a more diverse approach to prayer. Prayer is not only an opportunity to ask for help, it is also a time to thank God for what he has done.

So what are you thankful for this year? How can we increase the practice of gratitude in our lives?

(1) See ( McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112-127. Adler, M. G., & Fagley, N. S. (2005). Appreciation: Individual differences in finding value and meaning as a unique predictor of subjective well-being. Journal of Personality, 73, 79-114. Watkins, P. C., Woodward, K., Stone, T., & Kolts, R. L. (2003). Gratitude and happiness: Development of a measure of gratitude, and relationships with subjective well-being. Social Behavior and Personality’, 31, 431-451.)


  1. I’m thankful to be present in a fallen world where I can continuously see God’s grace abound toward the lost and renew hope to the saved. God, the same yesterday, today and forever. I’m thankful for that.

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