“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” – Maya Angelou
“GIVE THANKS”. It’s a lot more powerful than just a saying embroidered on your grandma’s throw pillow. It’s a calling to a way of life. God’s calling. I love science, especially studying the science behind biblical health and living laws found mostly in the Old Testament. I could spend all day talking about the countless examples where modern science shows us how a loving God, who is the designer of our bodies created a manual for His people to function at their best before there was ever a lab, a microscope, a GNC, or keychain Purell. And I will, at another time, in another blog. But in this piece, we’re going to put gratitude under the microscope and use science to discover the Why behind God’s call to this mindset.
Gratitude gets a rap as solely being a character issue. Remember when your parents would make you sit down and write grandma a thank you card for that birthday money? As a parent myself I often get frustrated when my child complains about the one thing they can’t have when I can list 1000 things, they could be thankful for? (One of which should be me not strangling them in that moment)
Why is it important?
Because we want to have good character, we want the giver to know that they’re appreciated, we want to be considerate of others, which are all good things but we’re going to take it a step further and look at the incredible ways something so simple can change so many areas of your life.
Berkley University did a study on the effects of gratitude journaling for at-risk students seeking treatment for mental health on campus.
This study came about because all of the research they could find on gratitude was conducted on healthy, well-adjusted people with amazing results, and they wanted to see if they could replicate those results in subjects with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.
They were so pleased that by the end of the 12-week study, the students who had incorporated gratitude journaling improved in every area of their lives, not just mentally, lining up with what past studies had shown on the same practices in “well-adjusted subjects”.
Part of their study included having students think grateful thoughts during an MRI to see its effect on the brain. During a thankful thought, the part of the brain called the Hypothalamus lights up like crazy.
This almond-size portion of the brain is the connector between the endocrine and the nervous system – which means it brings balance in your body between your nerves and your hormones. It controls some of our most important functions like sleep, growth, metabolism, pituitary, thyroid, and a host of hormones.
Gratitude causes us to get to sleep faster, and our quality of sleep to increase, which causes depression and anxiety to be reduced, blood pressure to go down, children to grow taller, new neuro pathways are created, more muscle tissue and damaged cells repaired, and increases our memory, learning, and focus.
Gratitude activates the pituitary gland causing stress relief, increased sex drive, milk production, increased fertility, endorphins, and pain relief. It helps the thyroid manage weight and body temperature.
Gratitude also causes a release of oxytocin and dopamine. Dopamine is your brain’s reward neurotransmitter. It makes you want to do the thing that causes its release again, like treat-training a dog. That’s how addictions are formed. You can literally become addicted to being grateful, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s God’s design.
That’s why there’s so many passages all throughout the Bible challenging us to live this way, because the designer meant it for our good.
This is especially true when things don’t feel very good. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thes. 5:18
I’ve heard people over the years talk of God’s call to gratitude in the face of tragedy or sadness like a cruel dictator setting unrealistic expectations with no regard for our feelings, and look on those who make the hard choice to be thankful like battered wives, just trying to please their deity; not allowed to think or feel for themselves.
How can we possibly be grateful when that loved one we prayed and contended for didn’t get healed? How can we possibly be grateful when the bank takes the roof over our children’s heads?
When we know the “Why” Behind gratitude, when we see how it effects our body, soul, our emotions, and our health, then we can see how God’s call to gratitude in the worst of circumstances is an incredible act of love. Like a protective parent, he provides us a delivery system for an alleviating ointment that soothes, heals, and carries us through pain and brokenness.
It’s because of love that Ephesians 5:8 says, “Give thanks always and for everything”
It’s because of love that Psalm 50:23 says, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me”
It’s because of love that Philippians 4:8 tells us to surrender our anxieties to Him with thanksgiving.
Gratitude is just one of the many wonders that can be found at the intersection of science and scripture, but unlike many of the others, it’s easy, costs us nothing, and can be started today, right where you are, regardless of your faith background. Try the 12-week gratitude journaling experiment for yourself.