The Power of Gratitude. Spiritually. Clinically. Beautifully.
It was a crisp December afternoon in the woods. I watched my first-born stand under the wood arches and await his bride. As the tune of the song Gratitude began to strum, I watched my son gaze at his father and myself, his brothers, and his buddies as we walked toward him. I couldn’t help but notice his emotions welling up. His feeling of thankfulness and gratitude for the roles each have played in his life could not be contained. I and many others expressed after the wedding that there was a sense of euphoria and Sacredness that was present. Something occurred deep in our bodies AND deep within our souls. What was this depth of experience that was occurring? This awareness led me to more searching… more of an explanation… yearning for more and more of that type of experience in my life.
As I reflect on this beautiful wedding day…Thanksgiving… and Christmas approaching, there seems to be a calling out… an emphatic push to BE thankful; to GIVE thanks. As I sit in wonderment, noticing how I feel the power of these moments encircling gratitude in my life, and I hear the cry-outs to slow down and focus on thankfulness, I can’t help but think of my favorite class in my master’s program for counseling, Clinical and Spiritual Integration. We took clinically researched ideas and tested hypotheses and set those results next to spiritual, Biblical truths and principles to experience the complementary relationship of the two. As we immerse into this season of Giving Thanks, let’s look at Gratitude and the relationship between Spiritual and Clinical impact… and maybe explain the depth of that beautiful December day and ways for us to experience deep, Sacred joy on a regular basis.
I will never forget the impact on my daily well-being and overall life after I read the writing of Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts. She wrote of a season in her life of numbness and lack of deep joy. A close friend suggested that she begin to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. To take time throughout her day to notice the small things… the rainbow glistening on a dish bubble… and the large things… grace and forgiveness from a child. Then, in that moment of noticing, immediately, go write it down… 1) The fragrance of jasmine. 2) The encouragement from a stranger. So, she did… and she changed. She began to experience more joy and lightness in her life. Baffled by her change of well-being, Ann began to seek God and research what He thought about Thankfulness and Gratitude. Her discoveries astonish me still today, 12 ½ years after reading this book. She discovered that in the majority of occurrences, Jesus took time to give thanks before He performed a miracle. Gratitude preceded the miracle. Could it be…could it be that simple? If we yearn for and want to experience miracles in our lives, thankfulness is the beginning of the path for that to occur. Why is that? What could God be up to by designing us in such a way that our state of being could prepare room for the experience of miracles to occur in our lives?
In short, Gratitude changes us! When gratitude is expressed and/or received, the brain releases dopamine and serotonin, two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, which contribute to feelings of pleasure, happiness, and overall well-being.
Research participants recently studied accounts of Holocaust survivors and how they repeatedly turned to thankfulness in times of torture and despair. The researchers themselves reported feelings of thankfulness for how those survivors were able to endure their time of agony. The participants’ brain scans revealed activity located in the medial prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is associated with understanding other people’s perspectives, empathy, and feelings of relief and is fundamentally connected to the systems in the body and brain that regulate emotion and support the process of stress relief, creating a more relaxed body state. At a neurobiological level, gratitude regulates the sympathetic nervous system that activates our anxiety responses. At a psychological level, gratitude conditions the brain to filter the negative ruminations and focus on the positive thoughts. Research from UCLA shows that expressing gratitude can improve the overall well-being of an individual by reducing depression, lessening anxiety, supporting heart health, relieving stress, and improving sleep.
It is rather clear to see that God designed our bodies to engage in this practice of gratitude and to reap benefits when doing so. I have to believe that Jesus experienced the desire and need for gratitude with His Father and surroundings. This practice very possibly prepared His state of being to be able to both perform and endure the miracles that were laid before Him.
One of the common phrases that many of us at Battlefield feel strongly connected to is, “Grounded in Gratitude.” If we are grounded in gratitude, then the ripple effect from that state of being is two-fold. At a neurobiological level, gratitude causes our bodies to live in a healthier and more enjoyable state. At a spiritual level, we are being like Jesus. And if a life of thankfulness was His way, then I want it to be my way too! For all of us, if we find ourselves becoming dysregulated, we can pause and ground ourselves from the swirling places. In that pause, gratitude can be an effective tool to utilize in returning to a state of calm, function, productivity, peace, and joy.
On that beautiful December day, my family and friends experienced calm and happiness within our bodies, birthed from our place of Gratitude, just as God designed. Then, we all experienced the miracle of true Sacred Love as God joined two lives together.
My family started our Gratitude journal on April 18th, 2011, right after I finished reading One Thousand Gifts. It lives in the heart of our home, opened up with a pen handy, so we can all easily jot down our findings throughout the day. We are currently at moment #1,782. Our brains, spirits, and lives are forever changed by this practice.
Ali Couch, LPC
About Ali: Answering God’s call to serve the team and nurture our clients, Ali Couch, joined the Battlefield team in December 2013 as a volunteer. She completed her Masters in Professional Counseling through Liberty University in December 2015, and is working several days each week as a counselor in the Rome office.
Ali received her Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary School in 2002. She married Sam Couch in 1998 and they have been blessed with four boys. Together they helped start a church plant in Orlando, FL serving as youth and children’s ministers, and moved to Rome for Sam to minister to families as a physical education teacher. Since living in Rome, Ali launched and directed the Fit 4 HIM Fitness Ministry for four years at Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church.
Ali’s daily inspiration for sharing God’s love, grace, and freedom with all she encounters comes from John 10:10… “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Her passion is for those hurting to begin the journey of healing by seeking Him and feel His comfort in healing and freedom of living the abundant life He has planned for us.