Top Ten Books on Cultivating Gratitude
ERB Playlist #4
Compiled by Chris Smith
This is the fourth in an on-going series of “playlists,” in which we recommend books around a particular theme.
“Making a mixtape (or playlist) is the opposite of indifferent. It’s heartfelt, purposeful — often a subtle form of flirtation. … [The playlist] is a way of making yourself known, an interpersonal form of show business, of making news, of replicating sounds and words you find important. It’s like poetry, because poetry is what you can’t say in any other way.”
– David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything
(Our 2009 Book of the Year. Read our Review…)
*** A Recent essay by ERB editor Chris Smith on a theology of the playlist…
[ Previous Playlist – #3 Top Ten Books that Every Pastor Should Read ]
*** Watch for more ERB playlists in the coming weeks and months…
With the Thanksgiving holiday coming later this week, we offer the following list of books on cultivating gratitude…
Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us by Christine Pohl (Eerdmans 2012) [ Buy now: Amazon // Kindle ]
Although this book is not exclusively on gratitude, Pohl does begin with the virtue of gratitude and shows how it is interwoven with the virtues of making and keeping promises, truth-telling and hospitality. This book is at the top of the list because it locates the church community as the place where we cultivate gratitude and is especially helpful in working through the challenges of doing so in a consumer society. [ Read an excerpt of this book… ]
The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods by John McKnight and Peter Block. (B-K Publishers 2010) [ Buy now: Amazon // Kindle ]
For us here at Englewood Christian Church, one of the most powerful practices of gratitude is our journey of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). There are a number of John McKnight’s books that one could read to be introduced to ABCD and its deep roots in gratitude, but The Abundant Community is probably the most accessible; it stirs our imaginations with the possibilities of what it might mean to really be grateful for our neighbors and to seek an abundant and flourishing community together with them.
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp (Zondervan 2011) [ Buy now: Amazon // Kindle ]
This volume is an exquisitely written call to embody a life of everyday gratitude. Our reviewer Zena Neds-Fox notes: “Ann’s writing reads like letters from a poet or a priest. She is caught up in the world where God is expressing love through the gifts which show her he can be counted upon. There is a section where she describes contemplating a soap bubble while washing dishes. I read with marvel as she over and over finds another way to express God’s truth and reality’s frailty and beauty here. Ann is able to find Jesus in ten thousand places and has gifted us all with a window into a different kind of living.”
[ Read the full review ]
The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts by Luther Smith (Alban 2004) [ Buy now: Amazon ]
A sort of mash-up of Living into Community and The Abundant Community, this book casts a vision for churches to embody a life of gratitude together for the gifts with which God has provided us. The Power of Asset Mapping, by long-time community developer Luther Snow, shows congregational leaders how to help a group recognize its assets and the abundance of God’s gifts and to act on them in ministry and mission.
Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness by David Steindl-Rast (Paulist 1990) [ Buy now: Amazon ] This helpful, contemplative volume finds gratitude at the heart of a life of prayer. “All prayer is essentially an act of gratitude,” says the publisher, “Even the prayer of petition that boils up from some agonizing personal need, includes, if it is authentic, a stated belief that “God’s will be done” – an expression of our utter dependence on God’s mercy.”
Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia for All That Is by Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams (Liturgical Press 2010) [ Buy now: Amazon // Kindle ]
“The prolific Benedictine nun Chittister joins the erudite archbishop of Canterbury in a series of reflections on finding the hidden face of God in a variety of circumstances and offering praise. Alleluia is a hail to God, a call offered not nearly as frequently as complaint is in these times. But Chittister explains that alleluia is a call to reflection… the final Amen to all that is. The varied subjects of the 23 essays—faith, doubt, Genesis, saints—are very loosely grouped, and Williams contributes only five. … Chittister is pre-eminently practical: the purpose of wealth is generosity, doubt gives birth to faith. The two authors are nicely complementary in the ways they anchor their insights in real-life conditions. This is thoughtful theology with its boots on, ready to walk out in the world.” (Publishers Weekly)
Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change by Mark Lau Branson (Alban 2004) [ Buy now: Amazon ]
Memories, Hopes, and Conversations recounts the experience of First Presbyterian and outlines a process that any congregation can utilize to harness the energies of the congregation at all levels of its common life. Branson first leads readers through the foundations of Appreciative Inquiry and bracingly explores biblical texts for understanding the practice in a faith context. He then outlines and illustrates a four-step process–Initiate, Inquire, Imagine, Innovate–that creatively employs constructive conversations and questions to evoke storytelling and spur imaginations. Branson persuasively demonstrates how concentrating on needs and problems can mire a congregation in discouragement and distract it from noticing innate strengths. By focusing on memories of the congregation at its best, members are able to construct “provocative proposals” to help shape the church’s future. Grounded in solid theory and real-life practice, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations is a groundbreaking work of narrative leadership and the first book to apply the principles of Appreciative Inquiry to the lives of congregations.
Sustainable Agriculture: A Christian Ethic of Gratitude by Mark E. Graham (W&S Reprint 2009) [ Buy now: Amazon ]
Longtime readers of the ERB and fans of Wendell Berry’s work will not be surprised that a book linking agriculture and gratitude appears on this list. “In Sustainable Agriculture, Graham creates a vibrant, substantive discussion about the moral issues in American agriculture. He does so by revealing what is going on in current agricultural practices and analyzing them in light of morality and sustainability. Graham’s constructive proposal for change is based on a moral vision that identifies a series of core values around which our agricultural system should be developed, including: a) a consistent, safe food supply; b) vital, sustainable communities; and c) personal and environmental health.”
Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle “To the Hebrews” by David Arthur DeSilva (Eerdmans 2000) [Buy Now: Amazon ]
This is perhaps the most academically intense book on this list, but it also is the one that most explicitly studies the role of gratitude in the scriptural story. “This approach combines the strengths of a rhetorical commentary with a keen interest in showing the relevance of Hebrews for the life and mission of individual believers and whole congregations. The volume also features “A Closer Look” sections that explore relevant aspects of the first-century world and theological issues of special importance to life today.”
Seasons of Grace: The Life-Giving Practice of Gratitude by Alan Jones and John O’Neil (Wiley 2003) [Buy now: Amazon // Kindle ] “Gratitude, Cicero observed, is more than just a virtue; it is the parent of all the other virtues. In Seasons of Grace: The Life-Giving Practice of Gratitude, Alan Jones and John O’Neil explore the spiritual practice of gratitude, which can be expressed in acts as simple as writing a thank-you note, cleaning the house or meditating in the garden. Although the authors do not draw explicitly on Naikan Buddhism, their approach is astoundingly similar to Naikan, which emphasizes gratitude as the key to compassionate living. The book is beautifully organized into sections around the four seasons: spring is a time to appreciate the gift of a renewed creation; summer a season of frolicking in nature and enjoying some rest; autumn a contemplative period of introspection; and winter an interval of gathering with loved ones. Each chapter closes with ‘gratitude practices,’ offering concrete ideas of ways to cultivate and express gratitude.” (Publishers Weekly)
What do you think…
What other books should be on this list?
Discuss in the comments below…
Thanks to Mike Bowling for his help in compiling this top ten books list…
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com