By Barry Howard
Giving thanks is more than a holiday slogan. Like a catalyst, real gratitude reshapes our attitude and reconfigures our personality. Elie Wiesel proposes that, “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.”
Many of us will be privileged to gather on Thanksgiving Day with family and friends to enjoy a bountiful feast and hearty conversations around the table. And either in our morning devotional time, or the prayer before the meal, we will give thanks for our many blessings.
As one of our treasured holidays, Thanksgiving is a day set aside, not only to give thanks, but to remind us of the ongoing importance of gratitude. In I Thessalonians 5: 16-18, Paul encourages believers to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
As we grow in our walk with the Lord, we may discover that choosing an attitude of gratitude enriches life in more ways than we have previously imagined. Experiencing and expressing gratitude throughout the ever-changing seasons of life has a way of reshaping our perspective and reformatting our attitude.
In my journey of faith, I am discovering that gratitude encourages me and others around me. When I am frustrated and tend to see the glass half empty rather than half full, I find that the practice of “counting my blessings” infuses me with encouragement, and that encouragement spills over into the lives of others. Gratitude has a way of refocusing my attention on the positive and reminding me of how blessed I am.
Gratitude also promotes good health. That does not mean that gratitude brings instantaneous healing, nor does it make us immune from viruses or exempt from accidents. But a heart of gratitude promotes spiritual, emotional, and physical health in at least a couple of ways. First, gratitude trumps toxic negativity and complaint, cleansing our perspective and renewing our focus. And second, gratitude seems to put us in a positive frame of mind which allows our body to better produce and release antibodies and restorative enzymes that work to promote health and wholeness.
A detailed report on a study of the psychology of gratitude is found in Robert Emmons’ book, Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. In his research at the University of California-Berkeley, Dr. Emmons found that those who practice grateful thinking “reap emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits.” The study revealed that individuals who regularly keep a gratitude journal report fewer illness symptoms, generally feel better about their lives as a whole, and are more optimistic about the future. This led Dr. Emmons to conclude that gratitude is both a personal choice and healthy response to our life experiences.
Ultimately, gratitude inspires me to serve. Gratitude is not about counting my blessings just to make me a happier consumer. Genuine gratitude motivates me to share my blessings. For me, the quality of life is best measured, not by how much I have, but how effectively I use resources I have been given to serve.
With good reason, the Scripture encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” For the believer, Thanksgiving is not just a day of feasting and festivity. Choosing an attitude of gratitude is a daily discipline, a personal practice that gradually and steadily transforms us from the inside out.