The time of year for giving thanks is quickly approaching. For many, the Thanksgiving season can easily become the “Oh my gosh, I have so much to get done before everyone invades my house and expects turkey” season. It is fascinating how a day set apart for giving thanks can become one of the more stressful times of year for many. Ironically cultivating gratitude and thankfulness in your life has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety. It seems that amid the busyness of the upcoming holiday, we need a reminder of the importance of gratitude, and how a thankful heart has tremendous benefits for us.

            The benefits of gratitude have been studied by Dr. Robert A Emmons of the University of California. According to Dr. Emmons research, there are tremendous benefits to cultivating a life of gratitude. The physical benefits include: stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, better sleep, and more motivation to exercise and take care of one’s self. Psychological benefits include: higher levels of positive emotions, better alertness, increased joy and pleasure, and an attitude of optimism. Gratitude also has many social benefits: increased generosity and compassion, more forgiving, more outgoing, feeling less lonely or isolated.[1] These benefits are things that we all desire to have, but how is it that a thankful disposition can make these benefits a reality?
            I find it fascinating that through observation and scientific inquiry, Dr. Emmons has concluded that gratitude can bring so many desired benefits into our lives. It is as if we were designed to be grateful, and when we are, benefits follow. Why is this the case? I believe that we benefit from living a life of gratitude because God created us to be grateful people. The Bible is full of commands from God and it is important that we ask the question, “Why did God command that?” When we take the step to investigate the reason behind the commands of God, often we find that He commands us to do the things that are best for us. Throughout the Scriptures there are many commands to be thankful. Here are a couple.
 
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. –Colossians 3:15
 
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. –Colossians 3:17
 
These Scriptures command us to be thankful because we can live our lives in an ungrateful manner. It is a choice to be thankful, and a choice that God encourages us to make. We have seen how choosing to be grateful brings physical, psychological and social benefits, but it does more than that. Not only do we benefit with good things, but we also eliminate negative traits that harm us. There is not a neutral position in respect to gratitude. If you are grateful, there are tremendous benefits. If you are ungrateful, there are tremendous detriments. Who among us enjoys regret? Does anyone find envy to be a desirable trait? Becoming a bitter, self-absorbed person is not the future we envision for ourselves, but it can become our reality if we live ungratefully. Selfishness and a thankful heart cannot coexist within a person. By constantly being focused on what power, possessions, and positions are not ours, we create a breeding ground for envy, jealousy, regret, and bitterness. As these negative traits fester within, they lead to anger, hate, and the mistreatment toward others who possess what we desire. A thankful heart goes a long way in bringing benefit, not only to ourselves, but also to others around us.
So, how do we cultivate a life of gratitude that gives thanks to God in whatever we are doing? First of all, we must accept the fact that gratitude is impossible to exhibit apart from other persons. In order to be grateful, there must be a person that you are grateful toward. Thankfulness is not something that can be directed toward inanimate objects. Who has ever been grateful to their bank account, or their new car, or their newly acquired promotion? We can be thankful FOR our bank accounts, cars, and promotions, however we cannot be thankful to them, because they are not responsible for their existence and they did not bestow themselves to us. All forms of gratitude must be directed towards persons. We can be grateful to our spouse because of the affection, care, and comfort they bestow on us. We can be thankful to our boss for the promotion they have given to us. We can only be grateful to other persons for what they have chosen to do on our behalf. But who do we thank for our spouse, for our boss, for our intellect, for the air we breathe, for the emotion of love, or the beauty that surrounds us in nature? It is wholly inadequate to thank an inanimate object such as the universe for such things. There must be a person we give thanks to for all things, and that person must exist seeing as there are so many benefits to living a life of gratitude. This person does exist and He accepts gratitude from us for the things He has done on our behalf.
 
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. –James 1:17
           
            The Second thing we must do to cultivate a life of gratitude is to intentionally thank God as we recognize the blessings He bestows. This intentionality must start with the seemingly small things we take for granted each day. The smell of the air after a good downpour, the beauty in the sunset, the sound of your child breathing as they sleep safely in your arms. As these small blessings, which we have labeled as common, occur in your life, tell God you are grateful. Express thanks to others around you, and also let them know that you are thankful to God for them. Actively look for things to thank other persons for. As you do this, you will be reminded of how blessed you are, and how there is a good God who actively looks to bless, even when His blessings go unrecognized.

            This Thanksgiving, let’s intentionally put away the busyness, slow down, and cultivate a heart of gratitude toward the Father of lights who is the benefactor of all blessings in our lives.
 
 
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
 
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
 
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
 
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done. 
-Johnson Oatman Jr. 1897


[1] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good