Comer: The necessity of having an attitude of gratitude
Last week, I found myself pondering the idea of gratitude. In doing this, I started thinking of things that I was grateful for. Then, however, a thought came to my mind. What if I no longer had this thing for which I am now grateful? Would I become bitter? Then, another thought came. What about the things that I am grateful to have that I know some other people don’t have? Are others justified in being bitter because they don’t have the things I have that I am grateful for? Am I justified in being bitter because I don’t have some of the things that other people have that they are grateful for?
Suddenly, I felt conflicted. I know it’s important to be grateful for things, but I also feel that gratitude shouldn’t be based on things. If gratitude is based on what you have or whatever break you catch, then it’s easy to feel bitter if you feel like you don’t have very much or catch very many breaks.
With all these thoughts on my mind, I came across an address in the April 2014 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf — then-second counselor in the First Presidency of the church — titled “Grateful in Any Circumstances.”
“Perhaps focusing on what we are grateful for is the wrong approach,” Uchtdorf said. “It is difficult to develop a spirit of gratitude if our thankfulness is only proportional to the number of blessings we can count. True, it is important to frequently ‘count our blessings’ — and anyone who has tried this knows there are many — but I don’t believe the Lord expects us to be less thankful in times of trial than in times of abundance and ease. In fact, most of the scriptural references do not speak of gratitude for things but rather suggest an overall spirit or attitude of gratitude.
“It is easy to be grateful for things when life seems to be going our way. But what then of those times when what we wish for seems to be far out of reach?”
The way to develop a grateful spirit, Uchtdorf then stated, was to be grateful no matter what.
“Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances — whatever they may be.”
One might ask, how is this to be done? How is it possible to be grateful regardless of your circumstances? How is it possible to have a “disposition” of gratitude even when we feel like nothing in our lives is going our way?
I couldn’t help but ask these questions myself after reading Uchtdorf’s words, but then I realized that I have been fortunate in my ability to have a spirit of gratitude throughout my life. Despite some difficult challenges, I have been able to remain grateful. How have I done this? It comes down to remembering who I am, where I came from, why I am on this earth and where I am ultimately capable of going — the essence of the plan of salvation taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know that I am a spirit son of Heavenly Father and that I lived with him before coming to this earth. He had a plan for me to become like him, and I agreed to that plan. That plan involved coming to earth, gaining a body and being tested to see if I would keep commandments. I knew that I would make mistakes, but because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, where he took upon himself the sins of the world, I could repent and be cleansed of those sins. And because Jesus was resurrected, I would be resurrected one day as well. No matter what trial I face, or blessing I feel I lack, nothing can take away from me my knowledge of this plan and what it means for my eternal potential. So why shouldn’t I have a disposition of gratitude?
Uchtdorf echoed these thoughts later in his talk when he said:
“In any circumstance, our sense of gratitude is nourished by the many and sacred truths we do know: that our Father has given His children the great plan of happiness; that through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, we can live forever with our loved ones; that in the end, we will have glorious, perfect and immortal bodies, unburdened by sickness or disability; and that our tears of sadness and loss will be replaced with an abundance of happiness and joy, ‘good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.'”
Last week, I was talking to my 8-year-old son and relating to him the story of the rich man who asked Jesus what he needed to do in order to obtain eternal life. The man said he followed the commandments, but then Jesus challenged him to sell all that he had, give to the poor and follow him. The man went away sorrowful because he had great possessions. I told my son that it was interesting that the man obviously was interested in eternal life, or else he wouldn’t have asked the question, but that ultimately, he was sad because of the idea of giving up all his riches. It seemed like his riches were more important to him than eternal life. My son said, “But doesn’t he know that he’ll be rich in heaven?”
In that moment, I felt something of what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must have felt when he said of an experience with a young boy who had expressed faith, “I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out.” Eternal blessings are always more important than worldly blessings, and because I know those eternal blessings are possible, I can have a spirit of gratitude.
Having a spirit of gratitude takes desire. It takes discipline. Even the disappointments we know we will face can be hard enough, to say nothing of the disappointments that completely blindside us. In those moments, it will truly require a lot of spiritual strength to keep a spirit of gratitude. But I know from experience that having a spirit of gratitude will allow us to be grateful in even in the most difficult moments. I realized this recently through another conversation with my aforementioned son. He took me by surprise one day when he mentioned that he had no idea what his mom sounded like. It was a heartbreaking comment. I had never thought of that before, but I realized that it was true. We have a lot of photos of her, and even some videos, but nothing that captured her voice. He can’t remember ever hearing her voice and what she sounded like. A realization like this could lead to bitterness, but it doesn’t for me because I know there will come a day when he can hear her voice. How can I not be grateful?
To end, I love the following words by Robert Emmons, psychologist and professor at University of California, Davis:
“Consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall. There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.”
I hope we all can work on developing a spirit of gratitude. It won’t stop trials — even devastating ones — from occurring, but I know it will help us get through them and that we’ll be able to have peace and joy.
Contact Ryan Comer at firstname.lastname@example.org.