By: Dr. Wesley Northey
This is the season of Thanksgiving. A wonderful holiday time for us to come together with loved ones and family, eat way too much food, and hopefully, amidst all of busy-ness and travel, recognize the many blessings we have in our lives to be thankful for.
While this is great to do in November, too often thankfulness gets lost in the mix of pressure, demands, and responsibilities of life during the remainder of the year.
The problem with neglecting to be thankful, is that we are literally created to give thanks. As believers, we are reminded throughout scripture of the importance of thankfulness. Colossians 3:17 tells us, “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” And in Thessalonians 5:18 it says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
It’s clear that thankfulness was never intended to be just an occasional thought or gesture – it’s designed to be a consistent way of life. If we choose to give praise, honor, and glory to God regularly, like we are called to, not only do we develop a more thankful attitude, we can cultivate a deeper, more meaningful heart of gratitude.
Thankfulness and gratitude are very similar, but they are actually not exactly the same. Thankfulness can be a very powerful emotion, but gratitude can become a sustained state of being. It positions us to practice our faith more fully and prepares us to give back for all that we have received.
There is a growing body of scientific research and literature on the effects of gratitude as well. It provides evidence that practicing gratitude has tremendous health benefits on our overall physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Gratitude has been shown to help build resilience against trauma, increase subjective reports of life happiness and contentment, while decreasing negative risk factors to our psychological and physiological health.
We can intentionally express thankfulness as a way of practicing gratitude, and ‘practice’ is a key word here, but there are many other ways to practice as well. Here are two practical suggestions you can use to begin developing a greater state of gratitude in your our life:
Gratitude journaling – This is a simple but highly effective way to deepen your connections with others, appreciate more fully your relationships with loved ones, and recognize all of the many opportunities you have to experience God’s grace, mercy, and love. Writing in a gratitude journal can be something you do before going to sleep or it can be the first thing you do to start your day. It doesn’t have to be long and there is no right or wrong way to write a gratitude journal. By writing down small moments that would otherwise seem insignificant, or big events that are reasons to celebrate, we avoid the tendency to take the good things in life for granted and heighten our awareness of the many ways God has blessed us.
Serving others – When we are generous with our time, talents, and treasure, we are learning to be good stewards of all of those blessings from God that we record in our gratitude journal. While journaling primes our hearts and minds with gratitude, serving others puts it into action! As followers of Jesus, we are called to serve others with compassion, empathy, and love the way Christ demonstrated with his life. Service to others and to a greater purpose outside of ourselves has also been scientifically proven to enhance our well-being the same way gratitude does. Being grateful makes us want to give. And when we give, we experience more fulfillment in life.
I encourage you, my friend, during this season of thanksgiving, to go beyond the normal day-to-day routines with only a few occasional moments of thankfulness and start to develop a true heart of gratitude. It will not just help you be a light for others but it will help through the storms of life, through
joyful times and hardships. If we are giving praise or in a season of mourning and sorrow, gratitude will keep us near to God’s presence and help us to make the most out of all that life has to offer.