Gratitude: An Essential Foundation for Spiritual Well-Being

May 23, 2017 | Jaci Cress

Mario DeLise had a vision in 2009 to develop an event through which attendees could participate in meaningful dialogue on spirituality and health care. At the time, DeLise was the spiritual care director at Walla Walla General Hospital in southeast Washington.

What began as a way to provide education, practical skill-building and fellowship for area ministers quickly grew both in size and diversity. The hospital held the seventh annual Spiritual Care Symposium in January 2017.

This year’s theme was "Gratitude: An Essential Foundation for Spiritual Well-Being." The event included nearly 90 social workers, nurses, doctors, counselors, ministers, health care chaplains, health educators, administrators, physical therapists and dentists.  

Philip Watkins, psychology professor at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash., presented his research on gratitude, which has been his focus since 2000. Watkins is the author of two books (Gratitude and the Good Life and Positive Psychology 101) and has authored a number of research articles on gratitude. He has served as an associate editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology and is currently on the journal's editorial board. His current research investigates questions related to how gratitude enhances well-being, the nature of gratitude toward God, and the factors that enhance or inhibit gratitude.  

The symposium explored the current status of the science of gratitude and showed how gratitude can be a crucial element to incorporate into spiritual care. Watkins showed how gratitude is one of the most important virtues for living well.

Building on this foundation, Watkins gave practical ways gratitude exercises can be incorporated into a practice of spiritual care and the impact these practices have on people's lives. Finally, he showed the significance of gratitude toward God and how recent research has shown this is important to spiritual well-being.   

Since its inception, the Spiritual Care Symposium has covered a range of topics including grief and loss, ethical and spiritual issues in medicine, spirituality in helping professions, and emotional intelligence as a key to spirituality in the workplace.     

In addition to meaningful dialogue, DeLise wanted to provide more local opportunities for those in helping professions to obtain continuing education units (CEUs) specifically geared toward spirituality and health care. Ultimately DeLise wanted to provide the area professionals with solid scientific content that was both inspirational and practical in nature. Partnering with Walla Walla University, the symposium has provided a unique, local CEU option that resonates with the community.                 

Planning is already underway for the 2018 symposium, when the focus turns to the spiritual dimensions of aging. The main speaker will be Barbara Cawthorne Crafton, an Episcopalian priest and author. Most recently Cawthorne Crafton was interim rector of St. James, the American Church in Florence, Italy, and of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Metuchen, New Jersey. She is also an adjunct professor at the General Theological Seminary in New York.