By Jacqueline J. Holness
While Christmas is the “most wonderful time of the year,” our culture does us no favors by virtually skipping Thanksgiving. Retailers, large and small, begin advertising Christmas wares at the beginning of November, and Christmas songs are played on radio stations as early as Halloween.
But before we bypass Thanksgiving completely, more and more research has proven what Bible-reading Christians already know: giving thanks has benefits for every area of our lives. In particular, much of the recent research points to increased benefits for health and wealth, two particularly troublesome areas in modern-day culture.
Various researchers and community leaders met in June for the Greater Good Gratitude Summit, held by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkley. Each of the researchers and community leaders explored the impact of gratitude in various arenas, from healthcare to romantic relationships. Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatrist Jeff Human discovered “that in the first few weeks after a heart attack, grateful people are more likely to take medications and regularly exercise.”
Gratitude is also therapeutic, according to a paper published in the Journal of Happiness Studies this year. Researchers monitored the gratitude level of people who were on a waiting list to receive psychotherapy. Divided into three groups, the people were suffering from various conditions, from substance abuse to eating disorders. The first and second groups were instructed to keep a gratitude journal and a kindness journal respectively, while the third group was instructed to keep track of their daily mood. The first two groups demonstrated “measurable improvements” over the third group. “Keeping lists of gratitude and kindness made people feel happier, more connected, and more meaningful—doing the work that therapy is partly designed to do, all before a single professional session.”
According to a recent Baylor University study, materialistic people suffer more from depression and dissatisfaction than people who are grateful for what they already have. In a Baylor University press release, James Roberts, coauthor of the study, said, “Our ability to adapt to new situations may help explain why ‘more stuff’ doesn’t make us any happier. As we amass more and more possessions, we don’t get any happier; we simply raise our reference point.”
In a paper published earlier this year, “Gratitude: A Tool for Reducing Economic Impatience,” researchers concluded that gratitude positively impacts monetary saving and investing. Many may believe that willpower is an effective tool to foster delayed gratification that may lead to thoughtful financial planning. Yet this research indicates that willpower is faulty. “The current findings argue strongly for a second route to combat excessive impatience—a route that can operate relatively intuitively and thus effortlessly from the bottom-up.” The researchers submit that gratitude is that second route.
Because it is Thanksgiving season, here are a few Bible verses that essentially sum up all this modern-day research:
• “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
• “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcend all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6, 7).
• “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10).
• “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12).
Maybe it is no coincidence that Thanksgiving precedes Christmas. Although we are being conditioned by culture to believe that material items are the essence of the celebration instead of gratitude for Jesus Christ’s birth, hopefully this modern-day research will inspire discovery of age-old biblical wisdom.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Contact Jacqueline at afterthealtarcall.com.