One day a father and his son took a trip to the city and visited a wealthy friend and his family. The father was a bit worried since they lived on a farm in the countryside and came from a simple family. On their return, the father asked his son, “How was the trip?” His son answered, “It was great dad. I learned a lot from this trip!” The man was surprised as his boy continued. “They have one dog, but we have four. They have to buy their food while we grow ours. They have walls around their property to protect them; we have friends to protect us. They have a pool that reaches to the middle of the garden, but we have a creek that has no end. They have imported lanterns into their garden; we have stars at night. Their patio reaches to the front yard and we have the whole horizon. They have a small piece of land to live on; we have fields that go beyond our sight.” The boy’s father was speechless, then his son added, “Thanks dad for showing me how rich we are.”
Maybe this story made you smile a little, but there is more to it than just a light-hearted observation of a child’s perspective on life. There is a powerful lesson to be learned here. God urges us to “Give thanks” sixty-two times in the Bible. Ephesians 5 reminds us: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise. . . . Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 15, 20). He knows that being thankful in all circumstances has a powerful impact on every area of our Christian life. Here are some emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits of gratitude:
1. Gratitude is an essential ingredient for joy. There is no way to “rejoice evermore” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) without giving thanks in everything (v. 18). That is why ungrateful people are so grumpy. Joy is an inner sense of contentment, which flows from a deep assurance that all God’s purposes are good and He is in complete control of every situation. Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, discovered that all the people she interviewed who had described themselves as joyful, also actively practiced gratitude. The following quote affirms her work, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” Ellen White also states, “If we would give more expression to our faith, rejoice more in the blessings that we know we have,—the great mercy and love of God,—we should have more faith and greater joy. No tongue can express, no finite mind can conceive, the blessing that results from appreciating the goodness and love of God. Even on earth we may have joy as a well-spring, never failing, because fed by the streams that flow from the throne of God.” –The Ministry of Healing, p. 253
- Gratitude can improve your sleep. Gratitude activates the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system, also called the relaxation response, while negative emotions activate the sympathetic branch. Considering that, it is no surprise that gratitude has been shown to reduce the time required to fall asleep, increase sleep quality and sleep duration. At the end of every day there is nothing better you can do than to thank God for His blessings and His presence through every hour of the day. To recognize the ways He has ledyou, offered protection over your family, and provided for your needs. Often we forget to give Him thanks for the constant way He is at work in our lives. “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for Thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8Jacy stared at the night-light. It was too bright. She couldn’t sleep. She pulled her blanket over her eyes. Now it was too dark! She couldn’t sleep. Jacy grabbed her teddy bear. It had a little bell inside that made noise. Jacy shook the bear. Ting, ting, ting went the bell. That didn’t help her sleep either. She was so bored! There was no one to talk to! And it was too quiet and too dark. Jacy started to cry. She would never fall asleep! Just then her door opened softly. “Jacy?” It was Daddy! He came and sat by her on the bed. “What’s the matter?” Daddy asked. “It’s too quiet! I can’t sleep. My brain just keeps thinking of things!” Jacy wiped the tears off her cheeks. Daddy rubbed her back. “Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I sing my favorite song. And then I count my blessings.” Daddy started singing, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God hath done.” Jacy hummed along. She liked this song too. “What are some of your blessings?” Daddy asked. “Um, my teddy bear,” said Jacy. She waved the bear to make the bell jingle. “That’s a good blessing,” said Daddy. “What else?” “Daddy!” said Jacy. “Daddy is a blessing.” That made Daddy smile. “And Mommy,” said Jacy. “And baby Darel. He’s kind of a blessing.” Daddy laughed. “How about your warm bed and your night-light?” Jacy nodded. She was starting to feel sleepy. Daddy pulled the blanket up to Jacy’s chin. “You are a blessing too, Jacy. I love you.” He gave her a kiss and closed the door behind him. Jacy hummed the song again. “Count your blessings, count your blessings. . .”And soon she was fast asleep.
- Gratitude increases your resilience. Resilience is your ability to bounce back and recover more quickly from setbacks or stressful situations. Grateful people are able to see the bigger picture and remember the positive in their lives. As a result, they are less likely to let bad events pull them into a downward spiral and more likely to grow in times of stress. Last year I struggled with the loss of my father who passed away due to brain cancer. During the past months of grief, I still tried to thank God for all the wonderful moments I had lived with my father and all the lessons I had learned from him. Being thankful helped me avoid becoming trapped in depression, and to instead focus on God and all His blessings. There is one person in the Scriptures in particular that comes to mind when I think of resilience and gratitude. Also his well-known teaching about overcoming adversity. It is Paul. He talks about rejoicing during hardship in Romans 5, because “tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (v. 3-5). Many of his letters to the early church begin by expressing thanks. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” Colossians 3:17
- Gratitude reduces social comparison. Sometime last week I logged on to Instagram. I saw a picture that one of my coworkers had posted of his vacation on the Maldives. Within minutes I felt envious and secretly wished I could go there too. But right away I started to thank God for all the other places I had already travelled to, and the wonderful experiences I had made there. Social comparison is a game in which there is no endpoint. It draws you to not appreciate what you have been given, but to nurture an endless desire to have what others have. The article “Teen Mental Health and Social Comparison” published on the website of the Newport Academy states that social comparison “can be detrimental to self-esteem, self-image, and well-being. In addition, constant evaluation of oneself versus others can create a judgmental, competitive outlook. Hence, one study found that people who make frequent social comparisons are more likely to experience envy, guilt, regret, and defensiveness.” The Bible calls this act of comparison “coveting”: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” Exodus 20:17. If you commit yourself to being deeply grateful for what God has done in your life, and remind yourself of it daily, you will be far less vulnerable to comparison and envy. If someone or something triggers that ugly feeling of negative comparison, stop and remind yourself of God’s blessings.
- Gratitude focuses on God. Thanking God focuses our attention on Him rather than our circumstances. The key to a grateful heart begins with understanding His character. He knows exactly what you are going through, loves you unconditionally, and understands you perfectly. When you thank Him in tough times, He gets bigger, and the circumstances become smaller. It reminds you that you are not in control, but that you serve a Mighty God who is. It keeps you in a place of humility and dependency on Him, as you recognize how much you need Him. “The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise Him.” Psalms 28:7
Some time ago I was touched by the story of Borghild Dahl. She was born in 1890 and from her early years suffered severely impaired vision. Against the advice of educators, who felt her handicap was too great, she attended college. She eventually became the principal of eight schools. She wrote the following in one of the seventeen books she authored: “I had only one eye, and it was so covered with dense scars that I had to do all my seeing through one small opening in the left of the eye. I could see a book only by holding it up close to my face and by straining my one eye as hard as I could to the left.” When she was over fifty years old a medical procedure finally restored much of the sight she had been without for so long. A new and exciting world opened up before her. She took great pleasure in small things, such as watching a bird in flight, noticing the light reflected in the bubbles of her dishwater, or observing the phases of the moon each night. She closed one of her books with these words: “Dear . . . Father in heaven, I thank Thee. I thank Thee.” Borghild Dahl, both before and after her sight was restored, was filled with gratitude for her blessings.
“Forgetting our own difficulties and troubles, let us praise God for an opportunity to live for the glory of His name. Let the fresh blessings of each new day awaken praise in our hearts for these tokens of His loving care. When you open your eyes in the morning, thank God that He has kept you through the night. Thank Him for His peace in your heart. Morning, noon, and night, let gratitude as a sweet perfume ascend to heaven.” –The Ministry of Healing, p. 253
Manuela Di Franca, Germany
Assistant of the Education Department of the General Conference