The season of Thanksgiving is rooted in both religious and harvest celebrations. The Pilgrims and Indians of America celebrated in the 1600s, and George Washington declared it a national holiday in 1779. Several countries celebrate the bounty of the harvest season with a day of thanks, but setting aside periods of thanks and acknowledgment is well documented in both the Old and New Testament. Probably the most quoted verse is Psalm 100:4, “Enter his gates with Thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.”
I’ve often wondered why there are so many verses telling us to express thanksgiving to God. What was it about His nature that needed so much acknowledgment? The more intimately I know him, and the longer He allows me to walk with Him, the less I believe He needs the Thanksgiving. I think He tells us to give thanks for two reasons: First, it’s the guardian of our souls. It’s a reminder that He loved us so deeply that He sent His son to die on our behalf, that He continues to be faithful, that He is trustworthy, sovereign and intimately involved in our life. It’s a reminder that allows us to see life from the lens of our relationship with Christ. Secondly, Thanksgiving and gratitude have social, physical and psychological benefits.
What science reveals
Neuroscience continues to reveal the why of God’s instructions. Research shows psychological benefits. A recent study documents that five minutes per day of sincere gratitude journaling can increase dopamine and serotonin levels leading to an increase in your well-being over six months by 10 percent. This is the same impact as doubling your income.
The latest brain research shows that gratitude can change the brain’s blood flow to the hypothalamus. Six doses of experiencing gratitude 30 seconds a day will enable our neurons to fire together and wire together within two weeks. This allows us to more quickly and more frequently access the feeling of gratitude. The more your brain sees the positive, the more it will look for the positive. What we focus on grows. The active practice of gratitude increases neuron density and leads to higher emotional intelligence, stronger interpersonal relationships, better communications and increased empathy. It causes us to be less self-centered and more others-centered.
Neuroscientist, Dr. Antonio Damasio, is quoted as saying, “We are not thinking machines that feel, but emotional machines that think.” Physically, a steady diet of heartfelt gratitude produces a stronger immune system, fewer aches and pains, better sleep-wake cycles, and optimum blood pressure and cardiac functioning.
So, why does God instruct us to ponder all that we have to be thankful for? Because it expands us, psychologically, socially, physically and spiritually. My prayer for you and your family this season of Thanksgiving is that you’ll set aside some time and begin to consider and give voice to all that you have to be thankful for.
Practical steps to implementing gratitude and a heart of Thanksgiving:
- Begin a gratitude journal recording 3-5 things daily you’re thankful/grateful for.
- Verbalize a minimum of one thing per day you can sincerely express to your spouse and children that you’re grateful for as it relates to them.
- Stop for 5 seconds, 5 times a day, to think about what you’re grateful for concerning your spouse. Generally, the way we think about our spouse during the day is the way we’ll treat them in the evening.
- Talk to God every day. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Colossians 1:3).
- Read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts.
Lisa May is the Executive Director of Live the Life South Florida etc. She can be reached at [email protected] or by mail at 5110 N. Federal Hwy. Suite 102, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308