What Americans pray for—and what we might be missing

What Americans pray for—and what we might be missing May 4, 2023

prayer of gratitude
Mitchell Griest via Unsplash

Do you pray? If yes, how often? And what are you praying for?

A recent survey by the spirituality site Skylight called The National Day of Prayer Study, showed that Americans are still praying—in surprisingly high numbers. Almost half of Americans say they pray on a regular basis. And that number increases to 65% when people were asked if they connect with a higher power regularly (at least a few times a week) through prayer, meditation, mindfulness, or reciting affirmations.

The National Day of Prayer study concludes:

Despite recent statistics that suggest Americans are becoming less religiously affiliated, prayer appears to be a constant practice in people’s lives, with Americans spending 3.6 billion minutes each day praying.

But more surprising, might be what Americans are praying for. In what many consider a “me-first” culture, it seems that when most Americans pray, they are not praying for themselves—they are praying for others. According to the survey, here are the top three reasons Americans say they speak to a higher power through prayer:

  1. For a loved one in crisis
  2. For someone who is ill
  3. For other people

As you can tell from the list above, most Americans are praying when someone they know or are acquainted with is in physical or emotional distress. But there’s another path to prayer that flips this dynamic around. It’s not about praying about the difficulties in your own life, or the lives of others. It’s a prayer for all the good that is present in your life right now.

Saying the Prayer of Gratitude.

If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, it will be enough. ~Meister Eckhart

On the Skylight website, you’ll find a number of spiritual videos. They include several from the mindfulness trainer Kelly Boys on the topic of prayer. Boys walks us through a prayer for hope, a prayer for inner peace, a prayer for spiritual connection. There’s also a prayer that invites us to “slow down with the Prayer for Gratitude.”

It’s a simple prayer and begins with Boys asking us the question, “What comes to you as something that you’re grateful for?” She follows this up by instructing us to:

Consider something you’re humbled by or grateful for … a bird chirping … a tree … a connection with a friend … a loved one. Bring it to mind … feel it in your heart …and give thanks.

Boys points out we can give thanks for something as simple as “a small moment with a cashier.” It can be any moment, person, object, or activity, that brings love and light into your world. She also asks us to consider: What would it be like if we lived our lives this way all the time, continually giving thanks for all the good in our lives?

The Prayer of Gratitude may act like a magnet.

According to the late businessman and life-philosopher John Templeton, there’s another important, almost magical reason to recite the Prayer of Gratitude. Templeton believed there were unwritten rules that governed our lives, and one of them was this: When we offer our gratitude and give thanks to the universe, it acts like a magnet. Templeton stated that:

The more we are grateful for what we have, the more will be given to us.

Templeton was convinced that as we offer our love and appreciation in prayer, the good we put out into the world reverses course and flows back to us. This chain reaction helps us attract “love, joy, opportunity, health, friends, material good. As we appreciate every blessing, life will open up to us in new and wondrous ways.”

As if to prove this point, Templeton began each morning with this simple prayer:

“Thank you, God, for all my good.”

It’s a prayer we all might consider starting each day with. For me this expression of gratitude begins with the thought, “Thank you God for all the good in my life. I am thankful for…” This mental checklist starts with my family, my home, and my health, and continues to my friends, my job, the sun greeting the new day, the first signs of spring, whatever!

Your gratitude can continue throughout your day with the liberal use of the words “thank you.” This means being aware of all who assist you, from the person who takes your order at the coffee shop, to anyone who extends you a small courtesy, to signing off on each email you write with the word “Thanks.” There is no such thing as offering too much gratitude.

The inspirational author James Altucher has a spiritual practice he calls ABG, which stands for Always Be Grateful. He recommends that we “try to do it all day” and make it a part of our regular spiritual practice. He makes the following 21-day challenge:

Be grateful non-stop for the next 21 days. What could it hurt? Be grateful for every object, person, thought, situation, that enters your mind. All of these are deserving of your gratitude. Do this for 21 days. Your life will be completely transformed. 

Are you giving thanks each day for the goodness in your life? Could saying “thank you” on a regular basis, in prayer and in life, help you feel better about yourself and help those around you feel better?  It’s worth considering—and the Prayer of Gratitude is the perfect place to start.

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