By Patty Tyler
Last night I got a phone call from my son, who I knew had gone through some trials that day, saying, “Mom, you won’t believe what happened to me this evening.” Knowing the spectrum of what could possibly follow this statement, I braced myself and said, “do tell.” He went on to relate that after feeling betrayed and mistreated by others, he was convinced that good people were a rare find in this day and age. Fed up with everyone, he decided to pack up, get on his motorcycle and go for a weekend adventure to a nearby town.
He hopped on his Harley, kickstand almost up, when the apartment maintenance guy approached him and warned him that he should cancel his plans, as a huge storm was fast approaching. Undaunted, he figured he could outrun the storm, and proceeded on his journey.
Just a few miles into his ride, the inevitable happened – a torrential downpour complete with stinging hail pelted him. Going 70mph on an interstate with winds and tractor trailers whipping by, he braced himself for the worst. Finally, the rushing water flooded his engine, forcing him to pull over.
At this moment, instead of crying out to God in despair, my son was overcome with a different sense – one of overwhelming gratitude. “Thank you, God,” he said, “for letting my feet be safely and firmly planted here on the ground.” No sooner had he spoken these words when three men on motorcycles pulled up behind him, asking if he needed help.
He explained his situation to them, after which they helped him restart the bike, escorted him to the nearest gas station, and gave him a raincoat on top of all that! He then asked how he might contact them, so as to repay them somehow. They refused, saying only that they were just doing their “duty.” The three men went on their way and my son made it back home not only safely, but with a renewed belief in the goodness of mankind. Point to be made: Does a prayer of gratitude – rather than one of helpless desperation – bring about a positive outcome, whether it be for blessings or deliverance?
In our generation of instant satisfaction, gratitude has become a lost art. Have we reverted to an “attitude of ingratitude” like that which was prevalent during the Exodus? Consider Moses’s discourse in Deuteronomy 5-8 when called all Israel, and said unto them: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and observe to do them.” He ended his exposition on the commandments with the final admonishment against ingratitude:
11 Beware lest thou forget Jehovah thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his ordinances, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: 12 lest, when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; 13 and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; 14 then thy heart be lifted up, and thou forget Jehovah thy God, who brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; 15 who led thee through the great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions, and thirsty ground where was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; 16 who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not; that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end: 17 and lest thou say in thy heart, My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth. 18 But thou shalt remember Jehovah thy God, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth; that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as at this day. 19 And it shall be, if thou shalt forget Jehovah thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish. 20 As the nations that Jehovah maketh to perish before you, so shall ye perish; because ye would not hearken unto the voice of Jehovah your God. (Deut. 8:11-20)
In 2 Chronicles Chapter 20 we read that the children of Moab, Ammon, and some of the Ammonites, came against Jehoshaphat to battle. Jehoshaphat is told that a great multitude was coming from beyond the sea from Aram, which made him very afraid, and he “set himself to seek unto the LORD” and said:
20 And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem: believe in Jehovah your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. 21 And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed them that should sing unto Jehovah, and give praise in holy array, as they went out before the army, and say, Give thanks unto Jehovah; for his lovingkindness endureth forever. (2 Chron. 20:20-21)
Here we see that their prayer was not a desperate cry for help, but rather one of gratitude! Their song of thanksgiving and faith in God’s mercy brought what was a possible outcome into the following future reality:
27 Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat in the forefront of them, to go again to Jerusalem with joy; for Jehovah had made them to rejoice over their enemies. (2 Chron. 20:27)
The Hebrew word for gratitude is hakarat hatov הַכָּרַת הַטוֹב. It literally means “acknowledging the good.” Having an “attitude of gratitude” may not be a natural state for all of us. Developing a sense of appreciation is a behavior that can be learned and continually honed – a lifelong habit of seeing and acknowledging the good in everything. Practicing gratitude means recognizing the good that is already yours. In performing this act of observing and acknowledging, we become participants in bringing about, as Ross calls it, the planting of Heaven on Earth!
There are numerous scientific studies on the health and psychological benefits of a grateful way of living. Research has shown that adopting an “attitude of gratitude” may improve sleep, reduce depression, decrease aggressive tendencies, and improve self-esteem. NIH researchers have found that people who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus, and that feelings of gratitude releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, the “reward” or “feel good” neurotransmitter. The effects also appear to be synergistic – the more you start acknowledging things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for even more things to be grateful for.
In a Huffington Post article entitled, How Grieving With Gratitude Saved Me, author Kelly S. Buckley recounts how after the death of her 23-year-old son Stephen, she “looked to the heavens” for a way out of the darkness she was in and was given the answer of “Grieve with Gratitude.” As one who has also experienced the loss of a son recently, I, like the author, also found this approach to be extremely counter-intuitive at first. But practice makes perfect. The author writes:
“My younger son Brendan and I agreed that if we could find “one little thing” each day to be thankful for, we would get through this. Each day we would look for simple blessings and I would write about it. On particularly difficult days, I could not even completely inhale because of the physical ache in my chest from the pain of losing my beautiful boy. So I would give thanks that this broken heart of mine continued to beat. As the days, weeks and months passed, our list of tiny blessings continued to grow, bringing flickers of light and hope along with it. We found we couldn’t just limit it to one little thing any longer. Blessings were sprouting up all over the place.”
In the Jewish tradition, Gratitude (hakarat hatov) is woven throughout daily life as evident in the morning prayers Birkot ha-Shachar, ‘the Dawn Blessings’ which is a thanksgiving for life itself: For the renewal of the day, the wake from sleep, and the workings of the body. The first words said each morning – Modeh/Modah ani, “I thank you” – begins each day by giving thanks. The evening prayers also include two benedictions (blessings/berakot), one praising God for creating the cycle of day and night, and one thanking God for the Torah.
Thanking YHVH was also an integral part of the Temple service and worship of YHVH as is so eloquently preserved in the Psalms that we have today. One can only imagine the blessings and deliverance that were given to Israel when they invoked, in song, the heartfelt gratitude due to The Creator. As it was sung by the Ancients in The Song of Moses, let us once again “Give thanks to YHVH, for it is good, to give thanks to our God, YHVH!”
Seven Steps to Practicing Hakarat Hatov – Gratitude
1. Begin and end each day with a prayer of thanks.
2. Take a Gratitude Walk – As you walk, acknowledge as many positive things around you as you can. These can be sights, sounds, smells, a beautiful breeze, etc. Speak aloud of the details, when possible.
3. Start a Gratitude Journal – jot down things that you are thankful for, or maybe include these thoughts in your art, music, writing, etc. Write a letter or card expressing thanks to someone who did something for you for which you are grateful but never thanked.
4. Look at challenges as opportunities as opposed to obstacles. Acknowledge the good in every situation, no matter how small.
5. Don’t complain – negativity is a cycle that can be broken, thankfulness is a habit that builds upon itself.
6. Limit negative input from television and social media.
7. Talk kindly to yourself in the same way you would talk to another loved one.
Thank you for reading!
1. How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain
2. Gratitude as Medicine: A Survival Kit for Health Care Organizations from The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley: https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/Gratitude_as_Medicine_Survival_Kit.pdf
This Gratitude as Medicine Survival Kit, designed to help health care organizations.
3. 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round – Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#6200738f183c
4. The Grateful Brain – the Neuroscience of Giving Thanks: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain
5. How Grieving with Gratitude Saved Me: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelly-s-buckley/how-grieving-with-gratitude-saved-me_b_9282144.html
Patty Tyler is Board Member and Minister of United Israel World Union. She and her husband David, lead the United Israel Center Northeast. You can contact them by email at: