The Power of Thanksgiving: Health and Gratitude

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”—1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Who would’ve thought that one day Paul’s pastoral exhortation would be considered a form of treatment. There are numerous accounts in Scripture calling God’s people to give thanks, and recent scientific findings have helped to shed a light on its significance and benefits.

God the Source

The word “thanks” and its variations appear in Scripture at least 139 times, calling us to give thanks to God. Giving thanks is a response of our hearts toward God and His character as well as His deeds. We give thanks to God to recognize who He is—our maker, provider, protector, guide, and so much more! This is a form of worship.

We also give thanks to God for what He’s done for us. When we thank God for what He’s done, we acknowledge He’s the source of everything we’ve been given. Gratitude, then, put things into perspective—we have because God has given it, not because we earned it on our own. Giving thanks sheds light on our dependence on God and how we can’t do or accomplish anything apart from Him. It’s an attitude we as believers should regularly cultivate during good and bad times.

Gratitude and Your Health

Practicing gratitude provides benefits to our spiritual lives as well as our physical health. Here are just some examples:

Relationships. It may seem obvious, but research shows that gratitude improves interpersonal relationships. Couples who regularly express thankfulness to each other also demonstrate higher levels of trust, loyalty, and overall contentment with their relationships.

Stress. Studies show that habitually practicing gratitude improves stress levels, sleep, energy, and enthusiasm. This happens because when we express gratitude, our brain releases two important neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, which are both responsible for feelings of happiness and wellbeing.

Depression and Anxiety. Dopamine and serotonin also play a role in feelings of depression and anxiety. Higher levels of these neurotransmitters are linked with gratitude and wellbeing, while lower levels are found in individuals experiencing depression and anxiety. By regularly practicing gratitude, feelings of depression and anxiety can diminish as the levels of these brain chemicals rise, ultimately creating an association between gratitude and wellbeing. In other words, if our brain is a forest, the more frequently we tread the path of gratitude, the deeper the pathway will be made on the trail to get us to happiness and wellbeing while the path toward hopelessness, despair, and fear will be less trekked and weakened over time. To believers, this is also known as renewing the mind. Who knew gratitude was so powerful!

Implications

Let’s put it all together now. We’re called by God to give thanks in all circumstances. So, how can you cultivate gratitude daily and experience its incredible physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits? Here are a few practical ways to do just that:

  1. Make gratitude a part of your prayer. Follow the ACTS method of prayer—Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. This will ensure gratitude is a part of your time with God.
  2. Keep a prayer journal. A prayer journal is useful for keeping track of prayer requests and also answered prayers. This can be a natural place to insert prayers of thanksgiving for the prayers He’s answered.
  3. Keep a gratitude journal. Every day, write down three things you’re thankful to God for. This practice will help shift your perspective so you can see God at work in places you may not expect.
  4. Write thank you cards and letters. Take the time to thank others in your life. Write a family member, co-worker, friend, or relative a thank you note, expressing the ways you’re thankful for their life.

Let’s not wait for the holidays to become thankful. Let’s be people who regularly appreciate those around us—most importantly, our heavenly Father. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1 NIV).

About the Author

Gabriella Silva

Gabriella Silva serves as a volunteer for Calvary’s communications and worship teams. She holds an M.A. in psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about integrating her knowledge of human behavior with the truth of God’s word. When she is not writing resources or singing at church, Gabi loves to paint, cook, and enjoy time outdoors with her family and friends.