I started off this month publishing a blog post titled, “A Month of Gratitude,” on November 1, 2022, and considering that the day we celebrate the national holiday of Thanksgiving is now only a few days away, let’s take a look at some thoughts on the topic of gratitude and thanksgiving.
In an article published on October 13, 2021, titled, “The Importance of Gratitude on Your Well-Being” (author’s name not mentioned), the article states:
We hear it all the time: the importance of being thankful, or showing gratitude. For some people, these words elicit an eye roll or a blank stare (at best). Sure, we know that gratitude is important in an abstract sort of way—but it can be hard to take seriously when our primary mode of interaction with the concept is the #ThankfulThursday hashtag on social media.
In many ways, as a society, we’ve lost touch with the true meaning of gratitude. And that’s understandable—gratitude requires reflection and stillness, two things that can be difficult in our busy, overstimulated everyday lives. As a result, we’re also missing out on the benefits of gratitude, which may be greater than many people realize. As it turns out, the effects of gratitude can be important for our overall well-being for several reasons:
- Improved mental health. If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, gratitude might be the last thing on your mind. However, as it turns out, gratitude could be a key component of helping with your mental health. One study showed that participants who wrote gratitude letters regularly displayed significantly better mental health than those who didn’t. In fact, brain scans suggested that gratitude might even have the power to rewire our brains for the better.
- Improved physical health. Better sleep and immunity? Yes please! Fortunately, neither require a visit to the doctor’s office or a new prescription. Gratitude has been shown to help with both, and may even be linked to reduced pain and improved cardiovascular health as well.
- Stronger social bonds. It’s no secret that people like to feel appreciated. Gratitude kept to yourself can have tremendous benefits. But expressing your gratitude makes it real to you and benefits the recipient. It is also tied to your physical and mental well-being. And importantly, expressing your gratitude often build connections and improve your relationships.
- Resilience. Gratitude has the effect of helping us to refocus on positive emotions. It guides us to take an optimistic, solution-oriented approach to the challenges that we encounter in life. Both of which are hugely important to building resilience. Resilience, in turn, improves our overall quality of life by enabling us to bounce back from the hardships we face.
If the idea of beginning a gratitude practice feels overwhelming or cheesy, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be difficult. You can start small by setting aside time each day to think or write about three things that you’re grateful for, or writing a gratitude letter once a week. If you’re comfortable expressing your gratitude, set a goal for yourself to tell someone that you appreciate them every day. After all—you’ve got nothing to lose, and so much to gain! (Quote source here.)
I’m terrible at gratitude.
How bad am I? I’m so bad at gratitude that most days, I don’t notice the sunlight on the leaves of the Berkeley oaks as I ride my bike down the street. I forget to be thankful for the guy who hand-brews that delicious cup of coffee I drink mid-way through every weekday morning. I don’t even know the dude’s name!
I usually take for granted that I have legs to walk on, eyes to see with, arms I can use to hug my son. I forget my son! Well, I don’t actually forget about him, at least as a physical presence; I generally remember to pick him up from school and feed him dinner. But as I face the quotidian slings and arrows of parenthood, I forget all the time how much he’s changed my life for the better.
Gratitude (and its sibling, appreciation) is the mental tool we use to remind ourselves of the good stuff. It’s a lens that helps us to see the things that don’t make it onto our lists of problems to be solved. It’s a spotlight that we shine on the people who give us the good things in life. It’s a bright red paintbrush we apply to otherwise-invisible blessings, like clean streets or health or enough food to eat.
Gratitude doesn’t make problems and threats disappear. We can lose jobs, we can be attacked on the street, we can get sick. I’ve experienced all of those things. I remember those harrowing times at unexpected moments: My heart beats faster, my throat constricts. My body wants to hit something or run away, one or the other. But there’s nothing to hit, nowhere to run. The threats are indeed real, but at that moment, they exist only in memory or imagination. I am the threat; it is me who is wearing myself out with worry.
That’s when I need to turn on the gratitude. If I do that enough, suggests the psychological research, gratitude might just become a habit. What will that mean for me? It means, says the research, that I increase my chances of psychologically surviving hard times, that I stand a chance to be happier in the good times. I’m not ignoring the threats; I’m appreciating the resources and people that might help me face those threats…. (Quote source here; and his “six habits” can be read in his article at this link.)
In my blog post published on November 1, 2022, titled, “A Month of Gratitude,” I decided that very day to start my morning prayer (while still in bed) with “Thank you, God,” and listing all the things I thank Him for doing in my life, and I focus on Him first and foremost, and not on anything else that might be going on in my life. I’ve been doing that every morning right up through this morning, and I plan to continue doing it long after November has ended. I haven’t been keeping a journal, but I have noticed the difference in some very positive ways which I may publish at a later date.
GotQuestions.org reminds us why giving thanks to God is so important:
The Bible is filled with commands to give thanks to God (Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1; 1 Chronicles 16:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Most verses go on to list reasons why we should thank Him, such as “His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:3), “He is good” (Psalm 118:29), and “His mercy is everlasting” (Psalm 100:5). Thanksgiving and praise always go together. We cannot adequately praise and worship God without also being thankful.
Feeling and expressing appreciation is good for us. Like any wise father, God wants us to learn to be thankful for all the gifts He has given us (James 1:17). It is in our best interest to be reminded that everything we have is a gift from Him. Without gratitude, we become arrogant and self-centered. We begin to believe that we have achieved everything on our own. Thankfulness keeps our hearts in right relationship to the Giver of all good gifts.
Giving thanks also reminds us of how much we do have. Human beings are prone to covetousness. We tend to focus on what we don’t have. By giving thanks continually we are reminded of how much we do have. When we focus on blessings rather than wants, we are happier. When we start thanking God for the things we usually take for granted, our perspective changes. We realize that we could not even exist without the merciful blessings of God.
First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” We are to be thankful not only for the things we like, but for the circumstances we don’t like. When we purpose to thank God for everything that He allows to come into our lives, we keep bitterness at bay. We cannot be both thankful and bitter at the same time. We do not thank Him for evil, but that He is sustaining us through it (James 1:12). We don’t thank Him for harm He did not cause, but we thank Him when He gives us the strength to endure it (2 Corinthians 12:9). We thank Him for His promise that “all things will work together for the good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
We can have thankful hearts toward God even when we do not feel thankful for the circumstance. We can grieve and still be thankful. We can hurt and still be thankful. We can be angry at sin and still be thankful toward God. That is what the Bible calls a “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15). Giving thanks to God keeps our hearts in right relationship with Him and saves us from a host of harmful emotions and attitudes that will rob us of the peace God wants us to experience (Philippians 4:6–7). (Quote source here.)
And since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, GotQuestions.org reminds us of what our focus as Christians should be on Thanksgiving:
The original thanksgiving celebration was held by the Pilgrim settlers in Massachusetts during their second winter in America in December, 1621. The first winter had killed 44 of the original 102 colonists. At one point their daily food ration was down to five kernels of corn apiece, but then an unexpected trading vessel arrived, swapping them beaver pelts for grain, providing for their severe need. The next summer’s crop brought hope, and Governor William Bradford decreed that December 13, 1621, be set aside as a day of feasting and prayer to show the gratitude of the colonists that they were still alive.
These Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom and opportunity in America, gave thanks to God for His provision for them in helping them find 20 acres of cleared land, for the fact that there were no hostile Native Americans in that area, for their newfound religious freedom, and for God’s provision of an interpreter to the Native Americans in Squanto. Along with the feasting and games involving the colonists and more than 80 Native Americans (who added to the feast by bringing wild turkeys and venison), prayers, sermons, and songs of praise were important in the celebration. Three days were spent in feasting and prayer.
From that time forward, Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a day to give thanks to God for His gracious and sufficient provision. President Abraham Lincoln officially set aside the last Thursday of November, in 1863, “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” In 1941, Congress ruled that after 1941, the fourth Thursday of November be observed as Thanksgiving Day and be a legal holiday.
Scripturally, we find things related to the issue of thanksgiving nearly from cover to cover. Individuals offered up sacrifices out of gratitude in the book of Genesis. The Israelites sang a song of thanksgiving as they were delivered from Pharaoh’s army after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Later, the Mosaic Law set aside three times each year when the Israelites were to gather together. All three of these times [Unleavened Bread (also called the Feast of the Passover) (Exodus 12:15-20), Harvest or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-21), and the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-36)] involved remembering God’s provision and grace. Harvest and Tabernacles took place specifically in relation to God’s provision in the harvest of various fruit trees and crops. The book of Psalms is packed full of songs of thanksgiving, both for God’s grace to the Israelite people as a whole through His mighty deeds, as well as for His individual graces to each of us.
In the New Testament, there are repeated admonitions to give thanks to God. Thanksgiving is to always be a part of our prayers. Some of the most remembered passages on the giving of thanks are the following:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1).
Of all of God’s gifts, the greatest one He has given is the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus paid our sin debt, so a holy and just Judge could forgive us our sins and give us eternal life as a free gift. This gift is available to those who will call on Christ to save them from their sin in simple but sincere faith (John 3:16; Romans 3:19-26; Romans 6:23; Romans 10:13; Ephesians 2:8-10). For this gift of His Son, the gift which meets our greatest need, the Apostle Paul says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
We, like the Pilgrims, have a choice. In life there will always be those things that we can complain about (the Pilgrims had lost many loved ones), but there will also be much to be thankful for. As our society becomes increasingly secular, the actual “giving of thanks to God” during our annual Thanksgiving holiday is being overlooked, leaving only the feasting. May God grant that He may find us grateful every day for all of His gifts, spiritual and material. God is good, and every good gift comes from Him (James 1:17). For those who know Christ, God also works everything together for good, even events we would not necessarily consider good (Romans 8:28-30). May He find us to be His grateful children. (Quote source here.)
I’ll end the post with the words from Psalm 136:1 (NKJV)–Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good…
For His mercy . . .
Endures . . .
Forever . . . .
YouTube Video: “You Are Good” by Israel and New Breed: