Cultivating an attitude of gratitude

A green park.
People enjoy the peace of a park.
 on October 30, 2023
Michael Hudson

“Now is the winter of our discontent,” wrote William Shakespeare in the famous opening line of his play, Richard III. He could just as well have been writing about modern-day life in post-pandemic Canada. Worried about rising food, housing and other costs, extreme weather events and much more, many Canadians are feeling discontented, their grim mood and fears for the future fanned by politicians.

These concerns are very real. Many people are understandably worried about the challenges they face in their lives now and about what the future may hold.

Yet are we seeing the full picture when our minds slip into a mood of resentment and discontent?

Refugee advocate, writer and theologian Mary Jo Leddy unpacks the roots of much of our modern malaise in her powerful faith-filled book, Radical Gratitude. She identifies our society as one in which a sense of perpetual dissatisfaction is created, as we continually long for that which we don’t have. There can never be enough. “In gratitude, the vicious cycle of dissatisfaction with life is broken and we begin anew in the recognition of what we have rather than what we don’t, in the acknowledgement of who we are rather than who we aren’t,” says Ms. Leddy. “Gratitude is the foundation of faith in God as the Creator of all beings, great and small. It awakens the imagination to another way of being.”

Gratitude refers to the ability to show thanks for the things you have and the things you’re grateful for. It helps us get closer to God by recognizing the blessings in our lives and makes it easier to focus on the positive. “Always be rejoicing. Give thanks for everything.” (1Thessalonians 5:16,18)

Our faith can energize us to live differently, inspired by Jesus, who lived a life of radical gratitude, who freely gave of himself even up until his death, and whose actions inspired others to follow his example. Following Jesus enables us to be grateful for the unexpected gifts of God and the gifts that we take for granted all too often.

Gratitude can thus serve as the bedrock of our new life in Christ. Paul says, “Whatever you do… do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks.” (Colossians 3:17)

Many of us, of course, often give thanks for our blessings. The grace we say before meals serves as an example. Yet as with our faith overall, we can always do more to be thankful, to develop a mindset of gratitude, and to realize its transformative power.

We can start by being thankful for where we live. A recent analysis of 87 nations rated Canada as the second-best country in which to live, based on a range of factors including quality of life and cultural diversity. I’ve been lucky enough to visit 25 countries, in many cases with PWRDF, and as I’d get on the plane to go home, I’d say to myself, “I’ve had a terrific experience but am so thankful to be going home to Canada.” Yes, our country faces severe challenges, especially in terms of needing to improve the lives of millions of Canadians impacted by hunger, poor housing conditions and poverty. Gratitude is a powerful thing; it can help counter the sense of powerlessness that many of us feel in terms of changing our society — and of changing ourselves.

Indigenous writer Robin Wall Kimmerer stretches the boundary of gratitude in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. She outlines how her First Nation gives thanks for the elements of creation that sustain life: the water, the fish, the animals, the plants, the trees. Like Ms. Leddy, she reminds us that in our consumer society, a sense of contentment and gratitude is a radical proposition. “Gratitude doesn’t send you out shopping to find satisfaction; it comes as a gift rather than a commodity, subverting the foundation of the whole economy,” she notes. “That’s good medicine for land and people alike.”

Gratitude can become the foundation for both renewing ourselves and using its creative power to fashion something new in the world. It can start with something as simple as being grateful for all that has been given to us by God. As a new year approaches, why not make living out an attitude of gratitude one of your resolutions for 2024?


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