Can Gratitude Make Our Society More Trusting?
Article by Elizabeth Hopper (2017)
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What is the Science?

While Americans may have become less trusting over the past few decades, social psychology continues to find that trust in a society brings “healthier relationships, lower crime, and even a better economy.” So how can Americans learn to trust more? One study suggests that gratitude may be an important key to addressing that question.

For a period of time, half of the participants in the study were asked to keep gratitude journals while the other half was simply asked to keep journals of everyday events. Next, participants were asked to play an online “trust game” involving virtual money. The researchers found that, participants who had completed the gratitude journaling were far more trusting of others than those who kept normal journals. The significance, according to the publishers of the study, is that the “positive emotions” of those committed to gratitude led to a “downstream consequence” that helped them trust others. Todd Kashdan, professor of psychology at George Mason University and a coauthor of this study, suggests therefore that those seeking more trust in society should “seriously consider including gratitude interventions in your life.”

“Raising our ability to appreciate how other people are beneficial in our lives has a downstream consequence of changing the way we relate to strangers.” -Todd Kashdan

What is the Theology?

For preachers who promote justice, community, and unity in what often feels like a largely divided society, the role of gratitudes may seem surprising. Yet, perhaps churches should come to expect a relationship between gratitude and trust. Trust in, and gratitude for, God are often connected in the Psalms, especially in Psalm 33 in which the author proclaims, “Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name” (Ps. 33:21).  Even more, in nine of his 13 letters, the Apostle Paul explicitly expresses gratitude toward God and toward the recipient churches, even as he seeks to establish healthy, trusting communities (e.g. 1-2 Cor.).

What to Consider

  • What sorts of “gratitude interventions” (i.e. practices of gratitude) guide your life and ministry? What practice or “intervention” might you start implementing today?
  • How do you understand the relationship between gratitude and trust? Where have you seen gratitude building unity in society or in your church community? Where have you seen ingratitude contribute to a lack of trust in your life or within your church community?
  • Today, where in society might your parishioners be witnessing a lack of trust and a lack of gratitude? How can your sermon utilize this science on gratitude and trust to speak hope and truth into their lives?

How to go Deeper

  • Challenge yourself and your preaching audience to keep gratitude journals much like those in this study. After some time, create space in your worship service for participants to reflect on and share about the experience.
  • Introduce gratitude journals to your family, children’s and youth ministries thereby instilling practices that may become habits for young persons who will soon lead and shape society.
  • Add depth and practicality to your sermon by providing your community with even more scientifically informed gratitude practices. In addition, share the science behind some practices that might get in the way of gratitude.  

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

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By | 2017-06-19T18:47:29+00:00 June 19th, 2017|Gratitude, Research|3 Comments

About the Author:

Michael Wiltshire serves as an assistant pastor at Rose City Church in Pasadena, CA. He holds an M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016) and a B.S. from Cornerstone University, double majoring in Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry. While studying at Fuller Theological Seminary, he co-led the Fuller Faith and Science student group and worked in residential community. Michael is passionate about pastoral care, and is dedicated to exploring how preaching, practical theology, and organizational systems can empower churches to care well. A Michigander at heart, Michael enjoys cloudy weather and the NBA.

3 Comments

  1. matt@ncstudycenter.org June 28, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    This addresses a serious issue in our society, the lack of trust: of one another, of people different from us, of institutions (Bowling Alone), of our government. At the same time, we have a lot to be grateful for. Cultivating gratitude could be a means of restoring trust.

  2. matt@ncstudycenter.org August 8, 2017 at 12:35 am

    I wonder if the ubiquity of digital technologies and social media make it harder for America’s younger generations to practice gratitude? While these technologies offer much good, they also lead to constant comparison, the “latest and greatest” syndrome of disappointment with outdated technologies, etc.

  3. Reed Metcalf September 12, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    This study suggests an interesting connection between gratitude and trust, but I wonder if the results of the study are “trust” as much as they are “grace.” By grace, I mean being altruistically-oriented; if people are more grateful for what others have done for them, perhaps they are more willing to “pay it forward.” The article hinted at this, but I think there is a small but important difference between “being trusting” and “being gracious.” Trust, in this context, implies doing good and expecting something in return, whereas grace implies doing good without expectation of return. I wonder if that data could be interpreted differently to arrive at this slightly different conclusion. Either way, I think it is evident that gratitude could do us all a lot of good!

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