Power of Thanksgiving Week 4

This is Thanksgiving week. Sami wrapped up our series on the Power of Thankfulness yesterday. Let’s start this week off with three more life-changing benefits of thanksgiving. The commercialization of Christmas has reduced public exposure to Thanksgiving. Yet as we’ve seen in November’s blog, thankfulness (a.k.a. gratitude) is a powerful catalyst for life transformation. In Scripture, we are introduced to themes of rebirth, new life, resurrection, and transformation. The medical community is discovering truths found in Scripture related to thankfulness. The Gospel offers to re-create us through the work of Jesus. That re-creation entails not being shackled to the worries of this world. Anxiety and resentment have no place in the believer’s heart. Both are known to cause systemic damage relationally and physically.

Improves Sleep

Having difficulty sleeping? Try starting a thankfulness journal. A 2011 study found that a 15 minute journaling session on thankfulness before bed has shown to improve quality and length of sleep. This seems to be due to a handful of dynamics.

Often times, we have trouble falling asleep because of stress and worry. Unresolved problems swirl around in our minds as we try frantically to solve them. During our waking hours, we may not give much heed to them because there are things to occupy our minds. But when we lay down to sleep, we try to relax our mind. That is when all the thoughts come rushing at us. 

A lot of our stress and worry revolve around things we need or want, but can’t figure out how to get. Our mind spends precious resources focusing on what we don’t have. Thankfulness combats that tendency. When we practice thankfulness, focusing on the good that we do have, it helps melt away the worry and stress about what we don’t have. Journaling what we are thankful for before bed helps calm our mind, as we train ourselves to be grateful. We rest more easily because we focus on the good we do have as opposed to what we don’t have.

It doesn’t make our wants and needs disappear, but it helps reframe our perception, allowing our mental energy to focus on more uplifting and positive things.

Improves Self-Esteem

Thankfulnessplays a role in viewing ourselves more positively. This is due to two reasons. 1. Low self-esteem comes from comparing oneself to others, usually those who have more or perform better than us. Thankfulness moves us away from the comparison game and onto the good we have/can do. Practicing thankfulness reduces a person’s tendency for comparisons. 2. Thankfulness contributes to optimizing performance. A study in Applied Sport Psychology found that athletes practicing gratitude experienced greater self-esteem and enhanced performance.

So whatever our struggles are, practicing gratitude helps us overcome many hurdles. Thankfulness helps us live freer and better. It develops greater internal drives. It could be said that internal drives are part of Jesus’ reference to the “overflow of the heart.” When we practice gratitude, we see things more positively. We feel more positive. We act more positively. A heart full of thankfulness is a heart that speaks life into others and into situations.

When we’re feeling down about something, it is a great time to start verbalizing what we are thankful for. As I mentioned last week, Jesus admonishes us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we are doing a terrible job at self-love, how can we expect to love our neighbors well. Thankfulness improves self-esteem (also phrased, “viewing ourselves with the value and dignity God sees”). That higher view of our redeemed humanity can then serve as a starting point for loving and viewing others as God sees them.

Increases Mental Strength (Trauma Revisited)

In week 2, I talked about how thankfulness reduces PTSD. Trauma is a major problem that goes deeper than initially suspected. PTSD is no longer a technical term limited to what war veterans called “Shell Shock.” Trauma happens to people all across the spectrum of human experience. That is why I think it is important to revisit the point.

In week 2, I discussed how gratitude reduced trauma in people in the context of 9/11/01. This week, I’d like to share a bit from a study done on Vietnam Vets. Vietnam was a turning point for military conflict. The rules of engagement were lopsided due to political pressure. Between that and the horrors of pacific warfare, American troops payed a heavy price. A large percentage of Vietnam vets came back with severe PTSD, and still suffer today.

The 2006 study showed vets who practiced gratitude developed a stronger resilience to the effects of PTSD. In essence, the higher the level of practicing gratitude = lower rates of PTSD.

Just the practice of gratitude can keep our lowest of lows from producing permanent negative effects in the face of extreme stress and trauma. We would be hard pressed to describe the “new creation” St. Paul talks about, if it didn’t include reduction and reversal of trauma and PTSD. A reduction that is known to happen when we follow the Biblical instruction of thanksgiving.

As we wrap up our series on thanksgiving, let’s not forget these truths. A lifestyle of gratitude as discussed in the Bible has been scientifically shown to improve quality of life. With improvements physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, there is no excuse to practice gratitude constantly. Thanksgiving is a habit worth developing, as it puts us in a closer frame of mind to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We will begin to see the depths and nuances of his goodness even in the face of adversity and despair. It is good that in America, Thanksgiving comes just before Christmas. We are afforded an opportunity to really reflect on the goodness of God in our lives before we celebrate Jesus’ birth as the greatest gift.

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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