With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s a good time to count your blessings. Most people, however, wait until the week of Thanksgiving to think about reasons to be thankful.
Why not have a season of gratitude from now until November 23rd?
Robert Emmons is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He’s a Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, and has conducted research on gratitude for 25 years. His studies have helped people understand not only the great health benefits of gratitude, but also the impact that thankfulness has on relationships.
Some of his research has involved encouraging people to keep gratitude journals or develop other practices to express gratitude. By studying gratitude in young people and old people from all walks of life, he has uncovered overwhelming results.
Here are some of the benefits:
Stronger immune systems
Less bothered by aches and pains
Lower blood pressure
Exercise more and take better care of their health
Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
Higher levels of positive emotions
More alert, alive, and awake
More joy and pleasure
More optimism and happiness
More helpful, generous, and compassionate
Feel less lonely and isolated.
Gratitude, according to Emmons, has two components. First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. People who are grateful look for the good things in the world. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to see the good gifts and benefits of life.
Second, gratitude involves figuring out where that goodness comes from. Those with thankful hearts realize that the sources of good things are outside of themselves. If people are of a spiritual mindset, they humbly acknowledge the good things that God gives. But those without a religious or spiritual frame can also see how others bring good things into their lives.
So how can you launch a season of gratitude that promises immense personal, social, and spiritual benefits for your life?
A Little Dab Will Do ‘Ya
Gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated. It can start small, and actually, even a little gratitude goes a long way.
I remember a time from about 20 years ago when I was facing some discouragement. Things weren’t terrible, but they were definitely stressful. I was struggling to maintain a positive attitude.
A friend suggested that every day I try to write down 5 things for which I could give thanks. At first, I struggled to get my heart into it. The truth was that I didn’t really feel all that grateful. But over a series of days, as I named little and big things — from a good cup of coffee to a loving marriage — I began to realize just how much I had to be thankful for.
Being grateful means cherishing the little things in life. And if you and I could take just one moment each day to pause and give thanks, that little act of attention could transform our life experience.
There’s something every day for which to give thanks. You could chronicle these words of gratitude in a journal or on Post-It notes around your house. You could text your word of thanksgiving to a friend, someone that adds value to your life. You could make sure to pause every night before bed to remember the good things God brought into your life that day. You could even use the time listening to this Sunday’s sermon and write down a list of how God has blessed you.
The act of writing things down slows your thinking process and allows you to reflect more deliberately. Start today!
Think about how you share words of gratitude. For instance, when your spouse prepares an amazing dinner for you, you could say, “Thanks for the dinner.” Or you could say, “That was so good! I loved the way you made the ______.” The way you express your sentiment can heighten the appreciation for the one receiving the praise.
If your boss has done something good for you, you could say, “Thank you for supporting me.” Or you could say, “I really appreciate the way you said ______ when I was feeling out of sorts. It made a big difference in my day.”
Similarly, I believe that God loves to hear specific prayers of thanks from us. Specific prayers allow us to express the emotions of our hearts to a greater degree than a kind of unthoughtful prayer might offer. God wants to be in deep relationship with us and loves to hear the contours of our hearts.
I John 5:14 (ESV) says, “If we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.” God indeed hears us and answers even before we call.
It may be that your prayers to God and your words to others need an upgrade. These words need to become more specific — more detailed, more carefully expressed — so that the one hearing knows your heart. Those kind of expressions will have an impact on your heart, too. You’ll have more joy and appreciation as you consider the ways you have been blessed.
Gratitude is Contagious
Finally, when you engage in an intentional season of gratitude, you’ll find that the gratitude quotient around you grows. Gratitude has a way of growing more gratitude. Others hear how much they are appreciated and in turn start to express their own words of gratitude. And the more we express gratitude, the more grateful we will be.
This week, make it a point to express your thanks to three people who have brought something good into your life. See how your heart feels as you say these words, and watch the impact that your words have on others.
The Apostle Paul knew the power of gratitude. His letters are infused with words of thanksgiving. Here are just a few.
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world” (Roman 1:8, NIV).
“I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you” (1 Corinthians 1:4-6, NIV).
“I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3, NIV).
Notice how Paul made thanksgiving part of the beginning of his letters. His heart was full of thanksgiving. The result, I imagine, was that the churches he wrote to found themselves also welling up with gratitude.
I’m looking forward to this season of thankfulness with the First Baptist Family. I thank God for your continued love and support, for your generosity, for your prayers, for the sharing of your spiritual gifts, and for the life we share together.
Much love to you and have a great week!
Pastor Brent McDougal