Be Thankful, Save the World? | Sojourners

Be Thankful, Save the World?

Three new books--and well-funded research--plumb better living through gratitude.

IMAGINE AN UNLIKELY DUET. One singer is National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg, a conservative political columnist who admits he indulged in “smash-mouth” rhetoric and once did a video mocking “social justice” as meaningless mush. The other is religion scholar Diana Butler Bass, a progressive liberal and author who champions social justice as central to a life of faith. Both published books this spring, and as they made separate media rounds, they sang the same song—an ode to gratitude.

Gratitude is having a big turn in the spotlight right now as influential writers, university researchers bolstered with millions in foundation grant funds, #blessed social media mavens, and more tout thankfulness as a boon to one’s spirit and health.

The claims are mighty for the benefits of thankfulness to others, to God, to Mother Nature. Bolster peace in the world—or at least your own small corner of it—via the virtue that could, by opening a path to moral consensus, save our society from fracturing in tribalism, fear, and frustration. Lower your blood pressure. Enhance your marriage. Find joy and avoid the sin of being an ingrate. Books and websites offer instructions for keeping a gratitude journal (feel measurably better about your life in a month!) or the recipe for a gratitude letter (allow 15 minutes, stay under 300 words, deliver in person if possible).

A recent study found that people who wrote “gratitude letters”—turning away from the “toxic emotions” stirred by negative thoughts to elucidate thankfulness—reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended, according to the online magazine of the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. The center is the nexus for the Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude project, with more than $3 million in research grants and outreach programs.

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