JONES: Attitude of gratitude in the middle of a pandemic

November 9, 2021

As I sit here thinking about the coming Thanksgiving holiday, it comes to mind that this is the third Thanksgiving since our introduction to COVID-19. At a time we set aside to give thanks, this year, gratitude might be a virtue that will take more work than usual.

Thoughts of those affected by this pandemic, concerns over masks, vaccines and trying to determine whether to have a family gathering can interfere with feelings of gratitude. Yet, our gratefulness is very much needed, especially during this time of COVID-19.

Why is gratitude important? Scientists have known for years that it changes the brain. Research has found that gratitude can change one’s well-being, increase resilience, reduce stress, improve our immune system, lower our blood pressure and strengthen our relationships. As Christians, we have a double benefit from gratitude. Not only does it benefit our health and make us happier, but gratitude strengthens our relationship with God.

What is gratitude? The secular understanding of gratitude involves acknowledgment that something meaningful has been done for us. From a Christian perspective, gratitude involves noticing God’s goodness in the world. It does not mean one must look through rose color glasses by being oblivious to the evil in the work or ignoring the tough messes we experience from time to time. It is choosing to look at the good despite the bad times.

Christians believe that gratitude is a special gift God has given us. However, health experts have discovered that expressing gratitude is beneficial to us even if God is not involved. Scientifically, when the brain feels gratitude, it activates the ventral and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex of the brain. These areas of the brain involve the reward feelings. But for us Christians, expressing gratitude is much more than that. It involves entering a deeper relationship with our creator. St. Paul tells us in Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” God created us to be grateful and joyous. It is programmed in our brains to be so.

Is it easy to find gratitude amid hard times? I would venture to say “no.” Many of us struggle with gratitude. The past years of the pandemic have been a huge struggle. There has been so much confusion, so many illnesses and death. This is where having a faith life comes in handy. We know that God is with us. We believe when Jesus said He would send his paraclete, He meant it. The strength of his Holy Spirit helps us to develop our grateful attitude.

The good news is that we are all capable of developing an attitude of gratitude, but it takes practice. Taking the time to recognize what God has done and expressing our gratitude is important for our physical, mental, and spiritual health. So, as you experience our third pandemic Thanksgiving, exercise your gratitude. Thank our loving creator for all that is good in your life. †

Deborah Jones is an associate director with the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.