I’ll tell you the truth, I have long struggled with gratitude. I believe we all do to a certain degree. However, I’ll admit I was surprised to learn that there was any sort of connection between porn addiction and gratitude.
If you read some of the popular books or blogs on porn recovery, you may have come across this quote: “porn is only consumed by thankless people.” When I first read those words, I was taken aback. It was hard to imagine that my own lack of gratefulness could be connected to my struggle with porn. But it makes a lot of sense.
I would often turn to porn during periods where I felt dissatisfied, disappointed, or disillusioned with something in my life. It was almost a passive type of protest of my own circumstances. And while it’s not the only tool in my recovery toolbelt, thankfulness has been an important one for me in my battle against temptation.
I can always find something to feel thankful for, even if it’s the next breath that I am about to take.
I have come to believe that gratitude isn’t about ignoring the problems in your life or denying your circumstances. It’s not sticking your head in the sand. Instead, it’s willfully choosing to change your focus and your taking control of your thoughts. It’s turning your mind towards all the good things in your life and towards God.
The amazing thing is that in recent years there has been much research done on the positive benefits of gratefulness. Psychology is beginning to understand that gratitude is an essential part of our mental, spiritual, and even physical well-being. There has been much research done on the positive impacts of gratitude on our lives and while I don’t claim to be an expert in this field, a quick Google search highlights some of the unique research being done on the connection between thankfulness and our health, both physical and mental.
In one study, researchers divided participants into three groups and asked them to write a few sentences about their lives. A Harvard health article described the study and its results this way.
“One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”
This study, and countless others, demonstrate how gratitude can impact our overall health in many positive ways. As research continues to support this notion, we are seeing a shift towards gratitude in settings where in the past the idea of giving thanks might have been ignored. I noticed this shift myself at work, as during the last few years, many meetings begin or ends with each person being asked to share something they are grateful for.
That’s simply not something that was on the agenda five years ago.
Of course, the idea of giving thanks and developing a lifestyle of gratitude is not new. Christian Scripture has encouraged gratefulness for thousands of years. In his letters to the early church the apostle Paul frequently admonished believers to be grateful no matter their circumstances, such as 1 Thessalonians 5:18, where he says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Paul connected gratefulness as part of God’s plan for living a happy and content life. It allowed him to say these famous words to the Philippian church, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13).
What an amazing attitude this man had! Gratitude was a major tool which helped the apostle get through incredibly difficult circumstances. Let’s not forget that Paul likely wrote those words to the Philippian church from a dingy first century prison cell!
On the flip side, have you ever noticed how we tend to make our worst decisions when we are thinking negatively? Many of my worst mistakes at work or in my personal life came at times when I allowed discontentment to cloud my judgement.
Throughout the Bible we see people make poor choices at times when they are complaining. Adam and Eve were duped into eating from the one tree God had commanded them not to eat from in the Garden of Eden. They forfeited paradise because they got tricked into believing God was holding out on them.
Likewise, the people of Israel got into the most trouble when they griped against God for bringing them out of Egypt, complaining that they missed their lives under Pharoah’s cruel hand, where they had lived for hundreds of years as slaves.
Perhaps this is why scripture always encourages gratitude, as it is constantly needed to combat the cynicism and negative thinking we tend to default to. Maybe it’s why King David would start some of his Psalms crying out to God about his difficult circumstances, but then almost always ended them with words of praise and thanksgiving.
So that is my challenge for you this month. If you struggle with negative thinking, I encourage you to do something I have started to do again:
Spend time each morning giving thanks.
Before you check your news feed on your phone or open social media, say out loud three things you are thankful for. (You can also write them down in a journal or on a post it). Whenever you feel frustrated throughout the day, go back to what you said in the morning, and remind yourself of those three things.
I am getting back into the habit of doing this myself. Try it for the next 30 days and see if it has a positive impact on your mental health and overall well-being. At the very least it will get your mind in a good place to start the day, so go for it!