We are in the midst of the time of year where gratitude, among many other positive reflections and demonstrations, has a heavy presence. Gratitude is emphasized, verbalized and hopefully demonstrated with family, friends, neighbors, and even with people we may not know.
At the root, gratitude is about perspective. I imagine that’s why it becomes an area of focus during the holiday season. Surrounded by family, receiving gifts from friends, and reflecting on the birth of Christ as the ultimate gift, makes it easy for us to see what we have to be grateful for. Am I as enthusiastically grateful on December 25th as I am 6 weeks later on February 5th? Admittedly not. But with the right perspective, I can be.
Consider 1 Chronicles 16:34 - “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; His love endures forever.” The call to give thanks doesn’t come without it’s own perspective. We can thank the Lord, despite external circumstances that threaten to alter our perspective, because of two truths: God is good and his love lasts for eternity. Your current struggles may be painting a different picture of God. That he is cruel, possibly vindictive, or not present at all. Only truth, like the precious wisdom of 1 Chronicles 16:34, can truly counter that perspective.
In truth, there is both a spiritual gift of perspective and very noticeable physical benefits. There is strong scientific evidence that shows the expansive effect intentional gratitude has on us as individuals. A 2014 Journal of Applied Sport Psychology study discovered athletes who practiced individual gratitude had higher self-esteem versus a comparison group, which translated to better performance on game day. A 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being gives us evidence of something even more practical: Individuals who wrote in a gratitude journal on a daily basis improved their quality of sleep. Finally, a study from 2012 published in the academic journal Individual and Personal Differences infers that people who intentionally practiced gratitude reported less feelings of aches and pains, and an overall self-report of feeling healthier.
The mental benefits of following our creator’s directives should not surprise us, but I hope it encourages us, whether in the post-holiday season or months down the road when life has thrown a curveball that appears insurmountable. May we cling to the directive of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – “Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”