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How do we heal in 2020? This world religious leader says it starts with gratitude

In the midst of a global pandemic, economic upheaval and social strife, the 96-year-old prophet-president extolled the healing power of gratitude

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President Russell M. Nelson records a video message on the healing power of gratitude, which was shared on social media on Nov. 20, 2020.

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In 1902, William George Jordan wrote, “Ingratitude, the most popular sin of humanity, is forgetfulness of the heart. … The individual who possesses it finds it the shortest cut to all the other vices.”

As COVID-19 cases spike and fear and uncertainty abound, many are questioning exactly what to be thankful for as we enter Thanksgiving week in the United States. Ingratitude truly is forgetfulness of the heart. Societies that lose their ability to feel and act with gratitude, even during difficult days, are in danger of losing a great deal more.

On Friday, Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, delivered a message to the world. In the midst of a global pandemic, economic upheaval and social strife, the 96-year-old prophet-president extolled the healing power of gratitude.

President Nelson reflected on a singular lesson from his long life, saying, “I have concluded that counting our blessings is far better than recounting our problems.”

The healing power of gratitude is not found in the absence of challenges or difficulties, nor is it manifest in our abundance or even lack of want. Gratitude emanates from humility and emerges from a kind of reverence, awe and wonder for all the good that surrounds us. Gratitude can heal individual hearts, restore broken homes and renew crumbling communities.

In a world that serves up a steady stream of instant gratification, it is easy to become entrenched in, and eventually enslaved by, an ingratitude-inducing entitlement mentality. When we humbly turn our attention toward the grace we receive from the selfless service of others, we find gratitude and goodness.

I was most grateful to participate in one of the last interviews Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks gave before he passed away. He eloquently spoke of the challenges of cultural climate change driven by the angry, divisive rhetoric that fuels social media. Such emotions foster ingratitude and obscure the inspiring interconnectedness of our lives. He then pivoted to another equally catastrophic kind of climate change — cold. The Rabbi described an “arctic frost of isolation, loneliness and despair that is freezing relationships, ruining families and chilling civil society.”

When the warming rays of gratitude are eclipsed by contempt and selfishness, cold hearts prevail and individual conscience becomes numb to the natural inclination of the better, more grateful, angels of our nature.

Dale G. Renlund, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ said it this way: “Reverence for the givers does more than just make us grateful. Reflecting on their gifts can and should transform us.”

Earlier this year Pope Francis also turned to the spirit of gratitude when he said, “It is a contagious gratitude that helps every one of us to be grateful toward those who take care of our needs.” Gratitude grows as we turn our attention toward and show reverence for the “givers” in our lives — human and divine.

I have written previously about the numerous studies surrounding the phenomenon of why family fortunes and wealth do not get passed down beyond a generation or two. This is especially perplexing in cases where, given the assets available, the wealth should perpetuate forever. Celebrated multigenerational wealth expert, Lee Brower, often touts ingratitude as the No. 1 reason why wealth doesn’t continue from generation to generation.

Brower also teaches that gratitude must be at the core of any approach to wealth management. Total wealth includes gratitude not only for an abundance of tangible assets but also for the equally real assets of character, principles, vision, goals, deep relationships, personal connections and meaningful memories. 

The courage to face our own ingratitude may be one of the most daunting tests of personal character. Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Ingratitude cannot exist in the same space where awe, wonder and thankfulness create the miraculous in the midst of the common. Recognizing the miraculous all around us is the beginning of healing.

Feelings of love and gratitude seem to naturally swell at this time of year. Properly lived, gratitude isn’t a set of behaviors as much as it is a way of living and being. Gratitude drives out greed, selfishness and entitlement, bringing in its wake a desire to lift and serve others. True gratitude is expressed by action. 

President Nelson extended a grateful invitation to the world: “I invite you — for the next week — to turn social media into your own personal gratitude journal. Post about what you are grateful for, who you are grateful for, and why you are grateful. At the end of the week, see if you feel happier and more at peace. Use the hashtag #GiveThanks.”

Jordan concluded his treatise on gratitude nearly 120 years ago with this challenge: “Let us conceive of gratitude in its largest, most beautiful sense, that if we receive any kindness we are debtors, not merely to one person, but to the whole world. … Let us realize that it is in kindness to all that we can begin to repay the debt to one.”

President Nelson concluded his message to the world on the healing power of gratitude with a prayer of gratitude. He petitioned God, “Wilt Thou also help us repent from selfishness, unkindness, pride, and prejudice of any kind, so that we can better serve and love one another as brothers and sisters, and as Thy grateful children.”

To which I add a humble, and most grateful, “amen.”