There have been studies that indicate gratitude changes the brain and leads to a happier life. The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society. They did a study last year asking the question: How can they help clients derive the greatest possible benefit from treatment in the shortest amount of time? They found that those writing a gratitude letter once a week for over three months showed a remarkable improvement in overall positive emotions over those who did not. The study was done on College students who struggled with depression and anxiety. They saw that one of the primary benefits is getting in a pattern of leaving toxic emotions behind.
Is it just the power of positive thinking tricking yourself into being happy? Habits of expressing gratitude have some value, but more so for a Christian. Oswald Chambers states that “The thing that awakens the deepest well of gratitude in a human being is that God has forgiven sin.” This echoes the difference between the Pharisee who goes to the temple and thanks God that he is such a spiritual person, and not like other sinners, while the tax collector pleads, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” His plea for forgiveness is what leads to overwhelming eternal gratitude. The Pharisee is only thankful if he sees himself better than others, which is a strange way to be grateful and surely does not last.
In Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, Nancy DeMoss proclaims, “I truly believe a grateful spirit, rooted in the soil of God’s goodness and grace, will radically impact how you view and respond to everything in your life.” How true that is! Are you feeling discouraged or distressed? Reminding yourself of God’s goodness in your life and the eternal hope you have can ease a restless, distraught heart. Are struggling with selfishness or pride? Remind yourself that your life and your abilities are a gift from God. You should be thankful for what has been given, not entitled. Gratitude for God puts your attention on his attention for you, rather than grasping for attention from others.
DeMoss concludes, “Cultivating a thankful heart is a safeguard against becoming bitter, prickly, and sour. A grateful child of God can’t help but be a joyful, peaceful, radiant person.” So, I will go to bed thankful. Wake up thankful. Live my life with gratitude. It’s not seeing life with rose-colored glasses or being ignorant of the trials, difficulties, and tragedies of this life. God’s goodness and love is the backdrop of all of that so that there is always some sunshine on a cloudy day. The eternal goodness of Our Lord awaits so that one day we won’t have to go to bed reminding ourselves to be thankful, we will be living in a world of his eternal goodness and grace.