Being grateful is good for you. It’s good for your health. Even recent studies at Columbia and Yale found that belief in God can make your brain healthier.
Writing for liveinthenow.com (11/14/18), Diana Manos notes, “For generations, people have always had a general sense that belief in God could somehow have a positive impact on one’s health, but now there is scientific evidence to support that.”
She adds, “An article published over on Medical News Today, titled ‘What religion does to your brain,’ says the relatively new scientific area of neurotheology—or the study of the neuroscience of theological belief—has made some surprising recent discoveries that show religious beliefs and activities can help a person live a longer, healthier life.”
This is not surprising to me; study after study has shown that there are health benefits to regular church-going. If you want to add years to your life, go to church regularly. Applied Christianity (for example, being forgiven and forgiving others) often results in all sorts of benefits---in addition to the joy of knowing Jesus Christ and trusting Him for eternal life.
One of the components of committed spirituality is practicing gratitude. An “attitude of gratitude” sounds just like a platitude. But it’s actually good for you. The Pilgrims were onto something in setting aside a day (in their case, in 1621, three days) for thanking God. And, of course, thanksgiving is something good to practice year round, not just once a year.
But ingratitude runs deep in the human heart. Have you heard the joke about the lady and her small son at the beach? Suddenly a big wave comes and washes over them. As it recedes, she discovers her son is gone. She cries out to God, “Oh please, I’ll do anything. I’ll go to church. I’ll give up smoking. Anything, just give me back my son.” Then another big wave comes, and her little boy is safely brought back. She looks at him, then she looks up to heaven and complains, “Where’s his hat?”
My mom used to always say:
As a rule, a man's a fool;
When it's hot, he wants it cool.
When it's cool, he wants it hot—
Always wanting what is not.
Shakespeare’s King Lear has this line about ingratitude: “sharper than a serpent’s tooth is an ungrateful child.”
While ingratitude comes natural to us (and often it is the norm; people will find nitpicky things to complain about even in a paradise), it’s also true that some people can find ways to be grateful, even in difficult circumstances.
Recently I went online to look at psychological studies on the impact of gratitude. Joshua Rask at the University of Calgary wrote: “Theory and research have shown that gratitude interventions have positive outcomes on measures of well-being.” “Gratitude interventions”? That means choosing to say thanks, even if you’re inclined to be ungrateful.
Radio preacher Chuck Swindoll once said, Life is 10 percent circumstances, 90 percent how we react to those circumstances.
We can’t control the stimulus, but we can control the response.
Ben Franklin once said: “Content[ment] makes poor men rich; Discontent[ment] makes rich Men poor.”
I marvel at St. Paul who could say, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Yeah, Paul, that’s easy for you to say. Oh, wait. This is the same St. Paul who was flogged many times. He was stoned one day and left for dead. He was shipwrecked. He had to contend with robbers and wild animals. And yet he could say we should be grateful through it all. Amazing.
Paul found his happiness, as do I and millions of Christians, through faith in Jesus Christ. The Savior and Lord loved us so much that He took on the punishment that we deserve for our sins. Finding true forgiveness from God, not because we’re good, but because Jesus died in our place, is often the first step toward a grateful heart.
Newsweek magazine a few years ago noted: “Dozens of studies have shown that when people actively take the time to list the things they are grateful for, they feel better mentally and physically than participants who haven’t done the same.”
So if things are going badly for you, or so it seems, practice a “gratitude intervention.” List 100 things you thank God for. Change your attitude, and you often change the circumstances.
Like the Pilgrims, we do well to practice gratitude to God, and not just at Thanksgiving time, but all year round. Just as belief in God can be good for your brain, Thanksgiving can be good for your health---that is, if you don’t eat too much.
A devout soul once prayed so long ago---and I echo his prayer---God, you’ve given me so many things. Please give me one more thing---a grateful heart.