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Psychotherapist discovers gratitude – and God

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In “Can God and Gratitude Help Your Mental Health?” Daniel Tomasulo,” recalls,

There was good reason for me to begin doing my morning gratitude list.

The research has been stellar with regard to gratitude’s influence on things such as happiness, vitality, positive feelings, self-esteem, better interpersonal relationships, promoting generosity, less stress, greater life satisfaction and higher reports of general well-being. It also appears to help guard against PTSD, depression and sleep dysfunction.

So along the way I have recommended this to my clients, students, friends and colleagues. This seemed like the easiest thing in the world and it was free. Gratitude for what has happened in my life over the past 24 hours, as well as more global gratitude, had very strong, positive, sustainable effects.

But in spite of all that research, and the obvious benefit it has had for others as well as myself, I have changed my morning mental hygiene ritual. Why? Because (with apologies to George Carlin) the research is pointing toward the invisible man.

I now think it makes a difference if you send your gratitude toward God, or if you simply send it out to the universe hoping it doesn’t get hijacked by a sunspot or asteroid.

Religiously based gratitude may be more effective (and Tomasullo cites research studies to show that it is) is because it broadens a person’s perspective on what to be grateful for. For example, let us say that a man faces illness. He can be angry, withdraw into his shell, suffer privately, whinge about “How could God allow this?”

Then comes a blinding insight: “God has allowed it to happen to other people every day, and I never cared, did I? I drew no conclusions. So if I don’t believe there is a God now, why did I ever believe that? Or … perhaps there is a God, and he has something to say through this?”

That is the beginning, of course, of real religion. We needn’t focus on the Christian tradition – the oldest known epic, the Epic of Gilgamesh, is an account of a man trying to find a solution for mortality. Modern monotheistic religion tends to be much more organized in its responses, but the plight hasn’t changed and can’t change.

Space and competence don’t permit more than a few stabs at a response, but here are some: The first thing God may do in response is to show that man that many other people in the community are suffering too, sometimes from the same problem as he is – and challenge him to do more than add another whinge to a vast whirr of useless noise.

If he accepts the challenge, he may soon find that he is too busy to have unfocused theological problems; his mind will be focused on service and solutions instead. And he will feel gratitude whenever that approach works. And that is where many such people meet God, almost accidentally, as it were.

In this world, it would not be possible for God to give that man either a perfect body or immortality. What God can and will give the man – if he accepts it – is a chance to become part of the redemption of the world through voluntarily accepted suffering and service. To be on the team, as it were.

That, at least, is a Catholic view of the matter. One need not be a Catholic to accept it, of course. One need only see that one is not the first and only human being who suffers, and proceed in faith from there to eternity.

And this is yer religious jaw fer the week. More.

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