Gratitude has been the focus of social science research for well over a decade. Robert Emmons and colleagues define gratitude as “an emotion, a virtue, a moral sentiment, a motive, a coping response, a skill, and an attitude. It is all of these and more. Minimally, gratitude is an emotional response to a gift. It is the appreciation felt after one has been the beneficiary of an altruistic act.” According to Dr. Emmons, gratitude unfolds in two stages. First, you acknowledge the goodness in your life. Second, you recognize that the source of this goodness is not you! Someone has made some kind of sacrifice on your behalf. People who cultivate gratitude have a deeper sense of well-being, deeper interpersonal relationships, and increased self-control, among other benefits. Grateful ministry leaders acknowledge not only that all good gifts come from God, but that other people on church leadership teams make sacrificial contributions that enrich congregants’ lives. As you enter an intense season of holiday worship and celebrations, practice the five suggestions that follow so that you do not lose touch with all that there is for which to be grateful.

  1. Cultivate a grateful heart. Meditate on Psalm 103. Make Psalm 103, and other psalms of praise and thanksgiving, the heart of your devotional life during November and December. Can you commit Psalm 103 to memory? 
  2. Increase your awareness of grumbling. This suggestion is not particularly fun, but grumbling is the antithesis of gratitude. Grumbling got the children of Israel into trouble!  Instead of grumbling, look for something for which you can be grateful. How aware are you of how often you grumble?
  3. Maintain a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, take time to review your day and look for those moments when your life was enriched by somebody else’s action. Be specific, not general. And don’t just think about it, take 5 minutes to write down 5 gratitude moments. Do you have a journal on hand to begin this process?
  4. Write a gratitude letter to a specific person. Identify one person who has made a contribution to your life, to whom you feel you have not adequately expressed your gratitude. Reflect on the benefits you have received from them in a letter. Again, be as specific as you can be. Finally, deliver the letter personally and spend some time with this person. To whom do you want to write a gratitude letter?
  5. Make gratitude a theme for team meetings. When the church calendar is full, team meetings can devolve into detail checking. While details do need attention, so do our hearts. Make a practice of expressing gratitude to each team member whenever you meet. Again, be specific and make it personal. How will you remember to notice what your team members do during the week so that you can thank them during your team meeting?

Courtney E. Ackerman, What is Gratitude and Why is it so important? 

 Robert Emmons, Cultivating Gratitude

Robert Emmons, Graced Gratitude and Disgraced Ingratitude

Emotional contributor: Virginia T. Holeman, PhD., LMFT, LPCC, Retired Chair of the Department of Counseling and Pastoral Care, Asbury Theological Seminary
Executive editor: Johanna Chacon Rugh
Curator of content: Dave Higle