Gratitude and the State of the World

February 10, 2020
sherri Dietrich, President, United Thank Offering Board

Things fall apart – and these days, they seem to be falling apart around the world at an appalling rate. Global warming, political discord, rising inequality, and our inability to discuss any of these issues with civility are in the news and on our minds every day. Periods of dramatic upheaval have happened pretty regularly in the history of humanity, but knowing that doesn’t make this one any more comfortable to live through or less unsettling to witness. Everyone I know is concerned about the state of their country and our world, and everyone wants to know how they can and should respond to the overwhelming sense of discord in the world around us. As Christians – and especially as believers in and proponents of gratitude – how should we live in a time of global unrest?

There are a couple of things I think we can eliminate from our repertoire of responses. Nonparticipation is not really an option. We are members of society, members of the human race, and choosing not to “get involved” is abdicating our responsibility. The Bible says this world is ours to take care of. Leaving the hard work to others is not the behavior that God rewards with, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” And social media flame wars aren’t helping. Social media can be a powerful mode of communication, but it also brings out the worst in us, encouraging us to rage at each other in ever uglier terms and very rarely changing anyone’s mind. In fact, research shows that it’s very difficult to change people’s minds. Even when faced with irrefutable proof that we are wrong, we tend to double down on our beliefs and work even harder to justify them.

Emotions, on the other hand, are highly contagious, and that’s where gratitude and the fruits of the Spirit can create change. To change the world, we must start with ourselves. Instead of buying into the prevalent scarcity perspective that leads to everyone feeling cheated of “their fair share,” gratitude sees all that we do have and what we could share with others. Gratitude promotes connection with others rather than opposition, awareness of God’s gifts to us rather than a focus on what we lack, contentment rather than bitterness. When we approach others from a grounding in gratitude, our emotional openness usually creates a similar response in them, thanks to human brain wiring (mirror neurons), which leads us to imitate the emotions of people around us. If more of us are out in the world spreading the perspective of gratitude and leading others into sharing that perspective, the world will change. It will take time, and it will still be unsettling to see what’s happening around the world, but it will happen. Gratitude changes lives – starting with yours.

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