There is a prime example of this aspect of human nature in the Book of Exodus. We read that soon after leaving Egypt and witnessing the great miracle that saved them at the parting of the sea: “The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin … on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 16:1-2).
It took only about one month from the time they were spared from the plagues sent on the Egyptians and freed from total slavery (Exodus 12:2) for the people to become unthankful and complaining. It was an even shorter time since they were saved from the pursuing Egyptians at the Red Sea, yet the very people who had so much to be thankful for had already forgotten the feeling of thankfulness they showed earlier (Exodus 15:1-18) and now exhibited no gratitude at all for the past when they began to concentrate on their current needs.
Understanding how the human mind naturally does repress or fail to remember things for which we should be thankful when new needs come along can help us better understand the Israelite’s apparent lack of lasting gratitude, and it can help us understand a related story from this same chapter of Exodus. After God supplied the need of the people of Israel in the form of manna (Exodus 16:13-31), we are told that he gave Moses instructions to help the Israelites with their memory issues: “… Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt” (Exodus 16:32).
God understands the way our human minds work in forgetting things for which we should be thankful, and this is one of a number of biblical examples in which God gave the people of Israel physical reminders of the things they needed to be thankful for. It’s easy to read over these stories and think of them as applying only to the people in the story, but physical aids to remembering can be just as valuable – and needful – for us today.
For example, in the next chapter of the Book of Exodus, after helping Israel again, God tells Moses to “… “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered…” (Exodus 17:14). Today for many of us simply keeping a “gratitude journal” in a small notebook can make a tremendous difference in our ability to remember the good things in our lives and to be thankful for them. A study conducted in 2005 by Dr. Martin Seigleman at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who every evening simply wrote down three things that went well that day felt increased levels of appreciation and thankfulness. The experiment also showed a very positive result of this activity. People who kept such a journal for as short a time as one week often experienced increases in general happiness for several months afterwards.
It’s a simple enough procedure. Writing down three things a day or, if that is difficult, then writing down at least something for each day of the week, only takes a few minutes of our time, but it can have measurable affects on our ability to remember the good things and to maintain appreciation for them.
Some people find other ways to help them remember things for which they can be thankful, and we discuss some of them in the article mentioned at the end of this post. But whatever method we may choose, utilizing some physical method of enhancing our “gratitude memories” is worthwhile. This is particularly true because feeling and expressing gratitude are only the first two-thirds of true thankfulness. Continuing to remember what we are grateful for is the other. But sometimes it takes a pot of manna or, in our case, some other physical reminder to help us to remember and to truly make gratitude last.
* For more ways to make gratitude last, see “Making Appreciation Stick” on our sister site here.