Few things transform a human life like giving thanks. Scripture calls us to it. Science confirms it.
The Bible overflows with invitations to thanksgiving:
“Always give thanks to God the Father for everything…” – Ephesians 5:20
“[L]ive your lives in Him… overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7
“…Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God…”-I Thes. 5:16-18
This simple, cost-free act is the wellspring of a vibrant Christian life. Every expression of thanks elevates us.
Every expression of thanks elevates us.
It raises our gaze: from self to God and from all we wish we had to all we’ve been given. Giving thanks also raises our hearts: from thoughtlessness or grumbling to appreciative joy.
When we choose gratitude, things return to their right places, like a hub recentered at the middle of a wheel. We remember that we are small and dependent, yet also cared for and deeply loved. We feel afresh God’s generosity and grandeur.
MEASURABLE BENEFITS OF GRATITUDE
As with everything that God calls His people to do, giving thanks brings remarkable benefits as well. This should be no surprise. After all, God made us and knows what we need to thrive.
An immense array of studies now affirm that virtually every part of a person – our intellect, emotions, physical body, spiritual life, and relationships – is made healthier by gratitude, more deeply and fully alive.
Studies now affirm that virtually every part of a person is made healthier by gratitude, more deeply and fully alive.
When we choose to give thanks, we experience:
- Fewer destructive emotions, like envy, resentment, and frustration.
- Increased alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy.
- Greater happiness and emotional well-being.
- Greater physical health — both objectively and in how we feel.
- Stronger connections with others, more willingness to help, and a happier marriage.
- More willingness to forgive the wrongs of others and less desire for revenge.
- Reduced anxiety, depression, stress, and stress hormones.
- Lower blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and markers of inflammation.
- Improved sleep quality and duration.
- Increased resilience and greater capacity to overcome trauma.
Remarkably, the practices that produce outcomes like these are often simple once-a-day or even weekly actions. For example, in one study, just writing a few sentences once per week about things the participants were thankful for measurably boosted happiness and reduced aches, pains, and doctor visits.
If a medication could do even half of these things, it’d be worth billions! Yet this prescription has no side effects and doesn’t cost a cent!
This prescription has no side effects and doesn’t cost a cent!
GRATITUDE IN A BROKEN WORLD
To be clear, thanksgiving does not deny the world’s hurt or our own. The Apostle Paul knew suffering well – from shipwrecks and slander to snakebites and stoning. Yet in virtually every letter he wrote, Paul called God’s people to give thanks in all the moments of life, both good and bad.
And he lived what he taught. Think of Paul and Silas in the Philippian prison, their backs lacerated by flogging. Held fast in cruel stocks, they could not stand or lie down, joints and muscles aching. Yet there in the darkness they sang out praise and thanks to God.
As they did, what had bound them fell away. Gates opened and walls crumbled. Gratitude does that every time — always within us and sometimes with what’s around us, too. It frees us from shackles of self-focus and complaint and lets us rise again with glad hearts and a hopeful sight.
The key ingredients of gratitude are simple: seeing and saying.
We first choose to pay attention — noticing God’s good gifts, from green grass to a stranger’s smile, the marvel of a human hand to the wonder of grace.
Then, we put it into words — naming the goodness we’ve received and expressing thanks to the Giver in writing or speech or song.
Let me encourage you – choose gratitude. Do it because old saints and modern science attest to its value. Do it because giving thanks will benefit every part of you. Do it most of all because your loving Maker calls you to it.
You can pause even now to express gratitude to God for specific gifts in your life. Think of ways to thank others today, too, for the good they’ve brought you.
Consider also ways you can cultivate thanksgiving over time – perhaps with a daily “gratitude journal” or starting each morning’s devotions giving thanks for five things.
THE ONE GIFT THAT GIVES ACCESS TO ALL GIFTS
Ultimately, gratitude is the one gift that gives us access to all gifts.
No matter how many good things surround us, without gratitude, we’ll inevitably miss them. Gratitude opens our eyes and hearts, enabling us to see all gifts and delight in both their goodness and their Giver.
So, whatever else we may ask of God, there’s nothing better than asking that He grow in us a thankful heart.
As George Herbert prayed in his beautiful poem, Gratefulnesse (1633):
Thou that hast giv’n so much to me,
Give one thing more, a gratefull heart…
Not thankfull, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare dayes:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Such a prayer our good Father will gladly answer. He delights to give good gifts to His children (Mt 7:11). And a grateful heart is the one gift that unlocks all the rest!
A grateful heart is the one gift that unlocks all the rest!