At age 71 Pecos ended as a battered, hopeless drunken wreck, lying abandoned in a deserted Arizona Ranch. The Christians that found him said that he looked as if every bone in his body had been broken. Through the practical caring of his new friends, Pecos met Jesus Christ on a personal basis, and was filled up inside with a new attitude of thanksgiving and joy. Pecos never lost that new attitude of gratitude over the concluding 16 years of his life. Here is how he described this new-found joy: "I feel now like I imagine a little hound pup does -When his eyes first come open ... I'm as happy as a fed pig in the sunshine.
The 19th century Cambridge resident, Charles Simeon, once said: "What ingratitude there is in the human heart." It is so easy to end up as a complaining, grumbling person when things don't go our way. The best therapy for a complaining or fearful attitude is to switch from grumbling to thankfulness, from moaning to praising, from bellyaching to belly laughing. Dr. Patrick Dixon commented that someone who can never laugh is as emotionally imprisoned as someone who can never cry. Dr. Dixon notes that laughter alters the levels of various "stress" hormones such as cortisol, dopamine, adrenaline and growth hormone - all hormones released when we are tense, working hard, worried or afraid. In typical office stress, all the hormones are released but no exercise follows and the body suffers. We develop stomach ulcers, arteries clog up, we become irritable and develop a host of other problems - all because the body is pumping out hormones we don't need. Laughter, says Dr. Dixon, shuts down these hormone levels, keeping them low. Interestingly, endorphin levels (natural morphine-like substances) seem to remain the same following laughter.
More and more research is coming to the forefront, showing that gratitude and joyful laughter are connected with healthy living, while grumbling is connected with diseased living. Dr. E. Stanley Jones once said: "If you are unhappy at home, you should try to find out if your wife hasn't married a grouch." Worry, fear, and anger are the greatest disease causers. We need to prune from our lives all tendencies to fault, find, blame and put down others. Instead we need to daily practice the healing therapy of "counting our blessings." I would encourage you to take 10 minutes today to write down 10 gifts that you have received in your life that you are thankful for. It might be your children, your work, your sense of humour, your spouse, your parents, the trees and mountains, the country of Canada. Then practice saying thank you" for these wonderful gifts. It always helps to have someone say "thank you" to. That is where God comes in. As the source of all good gifts, it only makes sense to express appreciation to the Creator of this mysterious universe. As someone once said, happiness is seeing a sunset and knowing who to thank.
I am more convinced than ever that I was born to be thankful. Ingratitude is like putting sawdust into my car engine. Through an attitude of gratitude, I am protecting myself from countless diseases that could otherwise come my way. Our immune system is a remarkably delicate mechanism that just cannot handle acidic emotions like bitterness, rage, or malice. I challenge you therefore to find out for yourself whether an attitude of gratitude will improve your emotional and physical health. Over our kitchen table is a wall plaque with the words: "in everything, give thanks." May God give you the strength this moment to develop an attitude of gratitude.
Rev. Ed Hird, Rector, St. Simon's Church North Vancouver