by Emanuel Kuntzelman
Recently, I have been inspired by the book; “Measuring the Immeasurable; the Scientific Case for Spirituality,” published by Sounds True. It is a compilation of articles supporting the scientific case for spirituality by today’s big names like Peter Russell, Marilyn Schlitz, Daniel Goleman, Bruce Lipton and Gregg Braden, to name a few. One article in particular that really caught my attention was “Gratitude, the Science and Spirit of Thankfulness” by Robert Emmons, in which he builds the case of gratitude being an important part of our growth in life.
For gratitude to be truly effective, we have to be detached from the expectations of reciprocation, or the sense of obligation in our gratefulness. Our feeling must be for the sake of gratitude in the spiritual essence.
In their studies on the importance of gratitude, two experiment groups were observed. One group kept a daily gratitude journal, recording all the things that happened during the day that they were grateful for – including positive states, alertness, enthusiasm and positive energy. The other group was asked to write down any daily interactions, including problems, challenges and frustrations in their journals for a series of months. Not given any prompts to include moments of gratitude, these journals were filled with content that mostly reflected frustrations.
At the conclusion of the study, it was found that the group with the gratitude journals showed better sleep patterns, better health, and more positive psychological states of mind. As a whole, they were more loving, forgiving and enthusiastic than the other group. The gratitude group was also much more likely to support the statement that; “Life is a gift instead of a burden. I often reflect how much easier my life is because of the efforts of others.”
What really caught my attention was Emmons’ mention that in general, people with a monotheistic belief system exhibit more gratitude than those who do not believe in a creator. It seems that people who believe in the idea of a personal god or as some sort of anthropomorphic personality, father/mother image, have an easier time expressing their gratitude. If a person has a personal dialogue with god, on a psychological level, it helps one express gratitude. We usually thank people, not abstract notions, for things. We don’t usually sit around saying “thank you” to the quantum field, for example.
This really got me thinking about this notion of gratitude, because in relation to my own life, I don’t believe in a personal god. I wouldn’t define myself as a secular Humanist, but I’m more of a spiritual Humanist. I do believe very strongly in the spiritual nature of the universe. To me, consciousness is a spiritual force and the field source of everything is, in effect, spirit and energy. This is the quantum nature of reality. I believe in an evolutionary state of spirituality and deeply respect the Source and the marvels of the universe, and believe the purpose of the universe was to bring us to this point, to reflect upon our own consciousness.
Being a spiritual Humanist rather than a devout theist, I began to realize that perhaps I have been more limited in my ability to express gratitude. This made me understand that gratitude really is this driving moral fiber of compassion in the world. Monotheists connect this ability to express gratitude with compassion and moral values, because having a god to express this feeling allows one to really engage in compassion.
It really is a warm and natural way for the human psyche to connect our gratitude to a god image, like a “perfect image” to have a deeper and more profound innate need for expressing gratitude. I got so excited about this because it helped me conceptualize why, perhaps, the spiritual humanist and the secular scientist, who believe in the beauty and wonder of the evolutionary impulse, might not express the same emotional vigor as a theist.
As we evolve psycho-spiritually, we begin to understand that this personal god in heaven is a mechanism for the sake of the psychological needs of humans. But the more we understand consciousness, and quantum mechanics, the more awe-inspiring the universe becomes, without any need to formulate a personal god. Thinking of it in this perspective, I began to realize that with this profound, scientific understanding of spirit in nature that the spiritual humanist had plenty of reasons to express gratitude that could have previously been missing.
A lover of Nature can feel that same vital energy of true love without having to direct this emotion toward a god. So I began to practice gratitude throughout the day, whenever I had a spare moment to do so. It really opened up my heart and mind and embellished the state of my spiritual core. It put a coat of polish on it, and I think that I have been feeling psychically better with more energy as a result of practicing gratitude.
We’ve done ourselves a disservice of detaching compassion from science. If anything, it should be the opposite. The scientific observation of nature goes beyond the psychological need for god, and arrives at the depth of the true Spiritual Source. To embrace this experience of gratefulness within Nature, Emmons gives a technique to improve one’s gratitude called the AIM model of gratitude. This acronym stands for:
A: Attention – Becoming aware of blessings we normally take for granted.
I: Interpretation – This is the conscious decision to see blessings instead of burdens. We are no longer victims of circumstances and are grateful beings by these interpretations.
M: Memory – When we need to draw on renewed strength, we can tap into positive, grateful memories. This is why religious traditions are so strong, but now it’s time for scientists to start creating their own memories of spirit. Whether from a theistic or scientific starting point, we can all come to the same conclusion: a sense of gratitude for the wonders of the universe enhances the quality of our lives.
So, take aim, fine tune our attention and interpretation, and we can all express our gratitude to the spirit within Nature. In return, we just might receive an unexpected reward in the sense of joy, especially if our thankfulness is sent unconditionally– not to appease any god, but simply to send our love out to the wonder of nature. What we receive in return may have a whole lot to do with the state of our spirituality.