It had been one of those days — a nonstop torrent of demands, glitches, urgencies, frustrations and delays. Add to that some hurt feelings and failures along the way, and I’d felt clobbered and beaten up all day long. The last “punch” came somewhere during my 25-mile commute home. I don’t even remember what it was, but I do remember how it made me feel — like the force of the day’s stress was about to send me flying apart like a flimsy plastic toy in a powerful centrifuge. Something had to give.
As I drove on, a single word came to my mind: thanks. It was a lesson God had been trying to teach me for quite a while. I’d kept a thanks journal for an entire year before that, but I’d fallen out of practice with gratitude. As one more thing threatened to unglue me during that drive home, I realized I needed to be thankful.
I needed to cling to what was good. So, I decided to stop griping and thank God instead.
I knew it would take a hefty dose of positivity to counteract my foul mindset, so I challenged myself to thank God for 50 things as quickly as possible. Nothing was too ordinary or cliché to thank Him for. I would rattle off everything worthy of thanks that came to my mind.
The first ten or so were obvious: things like my family, senses, working limbs, eyesight, employment and our home. Other things came to mind, special gifts that included people in my life, my surroundings, and the beauty God allowed me to enjoy. At the time, I lived where I sometimes got to see elk on the side of the road during my daily commute. I had forgotten what a gift that was until I chose to direct my mind there.
Then, God Himself came to my mind. Wow — how many things are worthy of thanks in the “God-Himself” category? God's love for me, that He died for me… and how He puts up with my stressed-out tantrums. Thank You, God.
I tried to keep count, but the truth is, I got lost in looking at all the gifts God has given me. Somewhere around 30 or so, I realized I felt completely different. I was no longer stressed out of my mind. I was calm and quiet, conversing with God about how good He had been to me.
Giving thanks changed me.
My little exercise that evening proved to me that giving thanks can change me in any circumstance — by refocusing attention from my mess to my Messiah and what He has given me.
Even Science Agrees
Though the scientific community doesn’t often acknowledge God, the effects of gratitude are scientifically proven.
Robert A. Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California-Davis, is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. For more than 20 years, he has studied the effects of gratitude on our health and relationships. In an article called Why Gratitude is Good, Dr. Emmons notes that while gratitude journals and other exercises can seem too simple, the results of his studies involving them are overwhelming.
“We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits,” Emmons said. He went on to list some positive effects of gratitude on physical, psychological and social wellbeing. These included lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, feeling more alert and alive, experiencing more joy and pleasure, as well as being more helpful, forgiving and compassionate and feeling less lonely. Those are some pretty excellent benefits.
Like any other habit, being thankful takes practice. That’s probably why it’s mentioned so many times in Scripture. Throughout the Bible, the Lord tells us to give thanks. He tells us to cling to and focus on what is good. I believe another reason God repeatedly calls us to be thankful is that He knows gratitude has the miraculous power to change our hearts. Giving thanks has the ability to give us peace and draw us close to Him.
How do we develop the habit of thanksgiving? Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:
- Thank God for three things before you even get out of bed each morning
- Thank Him for three things about your day as you go to bed each night
- Begin a gratitude journal where you write these things down or record your thankful prayers
- Engage in a rapid-fire thanks exercise, thanking God for any and every thanks-worthy thing that comes to your mind
- Have a “Thanks for People” day when you tell God what you’re thankful for about them. (It would probably make their day if you sent them a text or note telling them some of the reasons you’re thankful for them.)
- Each time you read Scripture, consider what you can thank God for in what you read
When we think of miracles, we tend to think of God doing something humanly impossible — like making one day’s worth of oil last eight days, as Chanukah centers on — or restoring a blind man’s eyesight or making the paralyzed walk. Those are thrilling accounts of God’s power, yet He also offers quiet miracles — like turning anxiety into peace when we simply do as He has told us to do.
Give thanks. It has the miraculous power to heal our hearts.