Every year at this time I write a blog on thanksgiving. I have concluded at this stage in my life that having a grateful heart provides the foundation that enables us to be healthy people.
First, we learn from theologian R.C. Sproul that if you had to summarize Christian theology in one word, it would be “grace.” And if you had to summarize the Christian ethic and attitude towards life it would be “gratitude.”
The Apostle Paul says that our lives should “overflow with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7), and that we should devote ourselves to prayer, “with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).
A second reason gratitude is so important is because it is a vital component of humility. Truly humble people are grateful people. They recognize who deserves the credit for everything in their lives. True heartfelt thanksgiving is a way in which we humble ourselves. Pride causes us to forget God while thanksgiving causes us to remember Him. Being thankful is a critical issue in our lives because the Bible is replete with the command to “Remember the Lord your God.”
Several years ago as I was doing some research on thanksgiving and gratitude, I discovered two articles that presented sound arguments on how gratitude has such a powerful impact on our lives. The first article was from Psychology Today and was entitled, “How Gratitude Influences Loving Behavior.” The second was from The Wall Street Journal and was entitled, “Thanksgiving and Gratitude: The Science of Happier Holidays.” The authors of each of these pieces relied on scientific research to come to their conclusions. What we learn from them is:
- Gratitude is the foundation of satisfying relationships. There is nothing more deadly than when people in a love relationship feel taken for granted.
- Gratitude expresses appreciation. Human interaction flourishes when people feel appreciated.
- People who are the most materialistic in our culture are very ungrateful and extremely unhappy. The relationship between materialism and gratitude run in the opposite direction. Ungrateful people are clearly unhappy people.
- Gratitude acknowledges all the great benefits of life and enables us to savor all that is good in our lives.
- Finally, and it should come as no surprise, a thankful heart is associated with a number of positive health benefits. Grateful people have stronger immune systems, report fewer symptoms of illness, and enjoy a better quality of sleep. They are also less reactive to stressful events.
I also did an interesting study on all the verses in the Bible where the word “ungrateful,” “ingratitude,” and “failing to give thanks” was used. I concluded that ungratefulness is linked to godlessness and evil. The Apostle Paul spells this out clearly in Romans 1:21 when he speaks of people who once knew God but have forgotten Him: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Os Guinness says that in the Bible the theme of remembering God is directly linked to giving Him thanks and is inseparable from faith. People of strong faith remember, and those who remember are those who give thanks. Those who forget God are ungrateful. This is true for nations as well as individuals.
Guiness goes on to say ingratitude is a moral, spiritual, and emotional carelessness about the realities of life. Tim Keller says every time something good happens in your life and you are not grateful to God, you are putting a deep mark on your soul. Author and theologian Warren Wiersbe says, “An ungrateful heart is fertile soil for all types of evil.”
Finally, I have realized that a thankful heart does not come naturally to us. You have to cultivate your heart, you have to be intentional about it. It is something you have to plan to do every day. Author Henri Nouwen said,
In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.
Every morning I spend the first ten to fifteen minutes of the day giving thanks to God. I start by acknowledging all that I am and all that I have is a gift from Him and that I am grateful. I thank Him for the gift of life and for a new day. I thank Him for my health and for keeping me in this life (Psalm 66:9). I thank Him for my wife and our life together as well as for our three children. I thank Him for the other relationships He has blessed me with. I thank Him for our home and the financial resources He has provided us. I thank Him for the work He has called me to do and also the talents and abilities he has blessed me with. I give thanks for all the spiritual blessings of life (Ephesians 1:3). Finally, I end by thanking Him for the incredible difference He has made in my life. Where would I be without Him?
I am convinced thanking God has made such a difference in my life. Over time I have found that it leads me to give thanks throughout the day as I recognize His good hand in all that I do. I have come to realize this not only pleases Him, but it has also transformed my life.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.