By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
What a gift Thanksgiving Day is!
And what a gift it is to have the day come as part of what is, for many of us, a four-day weekend – even if much of it is taken up with cleaning, laundry, meal preparation and, yes, shopping.
Too bad we don’t make every day a Thanksgiving Day. But think about it -- we can.
In fact, some of us do.
Several years ago in writing The Secret of Wealth, I had the opportunity to do some research about the therapeutic value of gratitude. Actually, I stumbled upon the research and was amazed.
Gratitude is absolutely good medicine.
Research shows that if you take a mere 15 to 20 minutes a week to write down the things for which you are grateful, in short order you will be better off – physically, psychologically and spiritually. Do it more often and the benefits increase.
It doesn’t matter if the list you draw up is the same each time. What does matter is that you take a little time – five minutes a day works fine – to be grateful for concrete things.
You can start with your own life. Then you can reflect on the grace that other lives are in your own life.
Relationships are key. Things are secondary. But don’t take your things for granted. Be grateful for them too. For example, I’m always thankful for a home with central heat and indoor plumbing – most especially when winter winds are blowing snow across my yard. I thank the Lord regularly for the people who invented them. They’re heroes to me.
If you want to learn more about the healing and growing power of gratitude -- and I heartily recommend that you do -- get and read Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D.
Meanwhile, consider this from The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
Scientists have long known that our brains have evolved with a negative bias. It was no doubt advantageous for our survival to focus on what was wrong or dangerous. Gratitude cuts across this default mode of the mind. It allows us to see what is good and right and not just what is bad and wrong.
Here’s what happens when we practice gratitude. We add to our lives the experience of being aware of and grateful for the gift of life and all of our other gifts in life. We also actually subtract time from our lives when we are anxious or sad or afraid.
So by practicing gratitude we actually change the mix of our life experiences – we actually change our lives.
Yes, it really is as simple as that.
Of course, chemists could tell you there’s more to the story. Research indicates that gratitude stimulates both the hypothalamus, which positively affects stress levels in the brain, and the ventral tegmental region, which is part of the brain’s reward system that gives us a sense of pleasure.
We could go on and on about the shower of neurotransmitters that start flowing through our bodies when we are being grateful. Suffice here to say that a host of empirical data supports the claim that practicing gratitude has real, concrete therapeutic power.
Yes, it really is as simple as that.
It all comes down to this: If you would like a better life, take time to be grateful for the life you have.
You could start practicing gratitude on Thursday, which is Thanksgiving Day. Or you could start today. Take just a few seconds. Better yet, spare a minute. If you can find two minutes, that’s even better. And five minutes will be even more rewarding, short term and long. Be good to yourself: resolve to take a little time every day to be grateful.
Then make time at least once a week to write down who and what you are grateful for. Keep your lists in a tablet or journal that you can go back to when your well of gratitude runs dry.
Count your blessings. Savor your blessings.
And be sure to thank the Source of all our blessings. The German theologian Karl Barth once asked: “What else can we say to what God gives us but to stammer praise?”
As Emmons explains: “The most basic human response to God is not fear, not guilt, but thanksgiving.”
The more you give thanks, the better you will do and the better you will feel.
I promise it. God guarantees it.