The Science of Counting Blessings

Social scientists are finally catching on to something that Christian stewards have known for centuries, namely: gratitude is beneficial to us as individuals and as a society. In fact, the results of ongoing gratitude research show promise in overcoming “the real world” challenges in building more vibrant communities and parishes. “The real world” is often seen as the place where we suffer lack of funding, too few resources, attitudes of indifference towards the church ... the list goes on and on. Regardless of the positive steps that parishes may undertake, unfortunately, people can remain fxated on a problem which often leads to a downward spiral.

The solution to “the real world” challenges is Christian stewardship which is now backed byscientific  evidence. Researchers have found that if people simply count their blessings instead of their burdens, it increases their overall well being.

The research has concluded that those who recorded their blessings felt better about their lives, had greater expectations and optimism for the coming week, had fewer symptoms of physical illness, spent more time exercising and were more likely to have helped someone.

There is a simple gold nugget in the research that reinforces the importance of Christian stewardship: Counting our blessings helps us live out our baptismal call as Christian disciples in a more vibrant and life-giving way. It is unlikely that the research comes as a surprise to anyone who embraces stewardship as a way of life, but how many of us actually take the time to write down our blessings each and every day?

In the spirit of the Easter season, I offer this simple two-part challenge in the hopes it will further renew your attitude and enliven your spirit. Part one ... each day write down three things for which you are grateful. You will successfully make this a habit if you find a time (morning, evening, lunch) and a place (in a journal, on your office calendar) that works for you.

What you record is too good to keep to yourself, which leads to part two ... at some point during the day, as part of a regular conversation, share what you wrote with someone else. Make a conversation of it by asking the other person what they are grateful for and why. This is very simple and easy to do and you will be glad you did.

Steve Foran serves parishes and dioceses in making stewardship a way of life. He can be reached through his website at giveraising.com.

Editors note – For further information on the study of gratitude and its positive effects, check out the research of Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis, pioneer in the research on gratitude and one of the leading scholars in positive psychology. He is the author of Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, published by Houghton Miffin Harcourt (2007). Another scholar who studies gratitude is Michael E. McCullough, professor of psychology at the University of Miami and director of its Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory.

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