The Science of Gratitude
In 1620, when the Pilgrims came to America in search of a land where they could freely worship God, they probably never imagined that 400 years later we’d still be carrying on a tradition that they began the following year. As history tells it, the Pilgrims were so thankful for their very prosperous harvest in the autumn of 1621, that they celebrated for 3 days and gave bountiful thanks to God. This became known as the first Thanksgiving.
In 1863, Thanksgiving was made a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln, when he entreated all Americans to ask God to “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”
Read more about the history of Thanksgiving here- Thanksgiving History
Like most holidays, over the years Thanksgiving has changed a lot. These days, its become more of a day of binge eating, football and hanging out with family and friends and less about actually giving thanks. I may even be one of the only weirdos left who wants everyone at the table to say what they’re thankful for before we eat! LOL!
What we should all be aware of though, is that cultivating and expressing thankfulness is something that is not just important to include during Thanksgiving, but is important to include in our everyday lives. And, because of high technology, we can even observe how good it is for us in real time.
In fact, recent studies using Functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans have shown that several key areas of the brain show increased activity when a person is experiencing gratitude. Based on the outcomes of these scans, scientists can see how gratitude can lower stress, decrease pain, improve depression, and even improve overall health.
Read more about those studies here- What Science Reveals About the Impact of Gratitude on the Brain
Now although gratitude is a powerful tool to improve health and quality of life, sometimes it can be challenging to “feel” grateful, especially when going through hard times. I get that. Here are two things to meditate on to boost your daily dose of gratitude:
1. Life is a gift. You and I did not sit in on the meeting to decide whether your heart would beat another 100,000 times today (the average) or whether your lungs would take 20,000 breaths today (also the average). We also didn’t get to decide if our liver would cleanse our blood or if anything else would happen inside our body to keep ourselves alive. These are all gifts from God that He gives us each day, and has since we were born. That is, unless you’ve died and been resurrected, in which case you’ve only missed a few!
2. God loves you, A LOT. He sent His Son to earth to make a way for you to go to heaven because He genuinely wants to hang out with you everyday for billions and billions of years. (John 3:16) If that’s not love I don’t know what is!
In addition to things you want to think about, there are practical things you can do to boost your dose of daily dose of gratitude also, such as:
1. Make a list of at least 10 things that you are truly thankful for. Keep that list in a place that will allow you to see it everyday, and read each one regularly. Add to it as more things come to mind.
2. Remember to always look for the “silver lining” in all situations. Here’s a few examples:
When things take longer than you want, remember that it develops patience and perseverance. When people mistreat you, remember that it develops mental toughness and strengthens our ability to forgive. When health problems arise, it may motivate us to change our lifestyle to what is more conducive to good health. When relationship problems arise, it can cause us to re evaluate how we treat people and who we should be spending our time with. When financial problems arise, we can learn better money management or become motivated to find new and better means of employment. If a seemingly impossible situation arises, it can strengthen our faith and reliance on God.
If you treat every problem as an opportunity, and always ask yourself “what can I learn from this?” and “how can I grow from this?” you’ll likely always find something.
3. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to anyone else. Work to appreciate your own unique composite of gifts, talents, achievements, contributions and blessings. There is nobody else like you and the world needs you to be you!
4. Keep a journal of positive experiences that you have. This is one of my favorite strategies, because it is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only will you help further cement the thankful feelings in your heart as you are writing the experiences down, but you will also experience a dose of gratitude every time you read it in the future.
5. Limit your exposure to negative, ungrateful people. We all have those people in our life that we really do care about, but that just love to complain. Of course, they need love and friendship too, but just know that like a virus, being ungrateful can also be contagious.
6. Be intentional to tell other people that you are grateful for them. Gratitude is kind of like a well, once the “pump is primed” with a few “thank you’s,” the waters really start to flow.
7. Pray often and give God thanks. Psalm 100 says “we enter His gates with thanksgiving and praise”, and I can tell you from 14+ years experience, life is a lot more fun when you live it on that side of the gate!
I hope this helps you get even more out of the Thanksgiving holiday and out of your every day life. Let me finish by giving you a wholehearted thank you for the privilege of being able to share these things with you! I hope you have an amazing week and Happy Thanksgiving!