Thanksgiving (gratitude) is a neglected attribute. Both the Old and New Testaments encourage thanksgiving. King David exhorts both himself and others to be thankful to God. Paul urges believers in various churches to be thankful. Often times, when we bless a meal, we say “Give thanks.” Why is thankfulness so encouraged in the Bible? Like many virtues in the Bible, it has transformative power. Modern research is confirming the Biblical prescription of thanksgiving.
Yesterday, Dr. Lisa was our guest speaker, You can listen to her message here. (Nov. 10, 2019). Today, I’d like to reflect on some of the known benefits of practicing thanksgiving (a.k.a. gratitude). Taking some points from a webmd article, we can see what modern science has revealed about gratitude.
Stress is one of the known causes of illness today. Stress over work, finances, relationships, health, etc. It has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and weak immune systems. If heart disease is the tip of the iceberg, stress is the submerged part. The national average of adults suffering from stress related illnesses is 43. Prolonged stress is deadly.
Research from the University of California shows that gratitude is a powerful counter to daily stresses. It helps diffuse prolonged distress. As a result, people feel better about themselves, others, and their situations. This also helps lead people make better life decisions. Avoiding addictive substances, poor dieting, and unhealthy habits are a few.
Regularly practicing gratitude helps combat the compounding effects of daily and situational stress, ensuring it doesn’t reach critical mass and lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Paul admonishes several of his churches to practice thanksgiving: Ephesus, Colosse, and Philippi to name a few. These were churches formed in the heart of Imperial Polytheism. To be a Christian in any of these cities was to go against the tide of culture and suffer mistreatment. So Paul, instead of goading the church to defend themselves with arms, instructs them to practice thanksgiving to God. Through thanksgiving, the churches could see their persecutors in a redemptive light like Jesus on the cross “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” The stress of persecution can destroy anyone from the inside out. Yet thanksgiving was a weapon against such destruction.
Another amazing thing gratitude can do is boost immunity. We saw above that prolonged stress is inflicting upwards to 43% of the adult population. Stress breaks down immune systems. To the extent that gratitude diffuses stress, it also boosts immunity. I think this happens in a twofold manner.
1. It prevents stress from building up
Stress tears down the immune system. Thanksgiving counteracts the damaging effects of stress. The wear and tear on the body caused by worry and doubt can be immense and long-lasting. Practicing gratitude changes that. It helps us to see things from a better perspective and no obsess over our immediate hurdles.
2. It develops positive mindsets, which lead to positive actions
When we are stressed, we tend to make unhealthy, reactionary decisions. Reactive acting means less planning, less forethought, etc. When constantly stressed, we make survival decisions, which aren’t sustainable in the long-run. Gratitude diffuses the stress and helps us reframe our situations in a positive light. The positive mindset empowers us to make better decisions and develop better habits. This in turn helps boost our immunity.
Feeling better about ourselves and our situations motivates us to take better care through habits, diet, and relationships–all of which contribute to our overall well-being.
Beginning a weekly or daily habit of thanksgiving could very well be what we need to become more healthy. Healthy actions almost always begin with a thought. So when we program ourselves for healthy thinking, healthy actions will follow.
Protects from Effects of Trauma
This is a bold assertion. I’m sure gratitude isn’t the sole cure for trauma. Yet it does yield positive effects. We have seen that gratitude reduces stress, which is a major component to trauma. Studies have shown that gratitude can help mitigate some of the destruction caused by Traumatic Stress. A study by Christopher Peterson, PhD, the University of Michigan showed that a surge in gratitude surrounding the tragedy of 9/11 reduced the effects of trauma. He believes the practice of gratitude help avert some people from suffering PTSD as a result of the trauma of 9/11.
A lot of trauma is tied up in being unable to alter a bad situation or experience. People who experience trauma have typically been victimized in one way or another. There is a constant feeling and sense of powerlessness. But thankfulness can change that sense. It may not immediately change the situation, but it changes our response to it. Gratitude helps us move away from the inner focus of what we can’t do toward the outer focus of what we can do. It is taking our power back through choosing to respond in a powerful way. Gratitude is an empowering tool to do that.
We wouldn’t think of it, but gratitude is a powerful tool that helps us become mentally resilient in the face of opposition and tragedy. It helps us reject a sense of victimhood, even as victims. It challenges us to mentally overcome the obstacles that keep us defeated.
Why Is This?
God created us unique from the other animals. One way was gifting us a reasoning mind able to think outside ourselves. People can transcend their instincts and build something bigger through delayed gratification. Thankfulness reflects that ability. One of the main characteristics of the God of Christianity is His outward focus. He didn’t need to create a universe, yet He did in Genesis 1. He didn’t need to create humanity, but He did, to have a relationship outside himself. He didn’t need to redeem us, yet He did. We are exhorted to do likewise. Our best potential comes when we are other focused, not self-focused. That is the nature of gratitude, an outward focus. By looking outside ourselves, we reflect the character and image of God.
I hope this motivates you to start a regular routine of thanksgiving, and thereby experience the Lord’s:
Presence. Love. Power.
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