Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that we set aside for the purpose of giving thanks. It's a good start, but what if we showed our gratitude throughout the year? We could have better marriages, stronger faith, and even better health.
For thousands of years, scripture has been very clear: give thanks. Now health experts are saying the same thing. Dr. David J. Jennings, Jr., Assistant Director of the Psychological Services Center and Assistant Professor at Regent University, says scientific research definitively links a persistent sense of gratitude with good physical health.
"Studies have shown that people with a more grateful disposition actually engage in more exercise. They eat better, they take care of themselves better by getting regular physical examinations," he said. "It's also been shown to be helpful to people who are actually having some kind of physical ailment, actually reduce negative health symptoms and increase sleep."
Grateful people also handle adversity better, experience less PTSD, clinical depression and anxiety.
"Gratitude has been shown to actually help to cope with stress and negative life events, which of course, stress can be a major contributor to physical problems," Dr. Jennings explained. "Stress certainly tends to depress our immune system, makes us more vulnerable to disease, sickness."
As a bonus, Dr. Jennings says showing gratitude towards your spouse strengthens your marriage.
"Research is showing more and more that the quality of our relationships has a tremendous impact on the quality of our health," he explained, "And gratitude has actually been shown to help improve the quality of one's relationship."
Unfortunately, gratitude does not come naturally to most people. Instead, most of us have the tendency to focus on what's wrong with our lives, rather than what's right with them. That's why Revive Our Hearts ministry emphasizes the importance of learning how to develop a grateful attitude and how to practice it until it becomes a habit.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss leads the ministry, which includes the daily, nationally-broadcast radio program, "Revive Our Hearts." She says gratitude starts by confessing to God, "You don't owe me anything good."
"'All I deserved was hell and you've given me so much more. You've given me heaven and eternal life and Christ Jesus and your Holy Spirit,'" she prays, "'Oh Lord, if you never gave me anything else good in this life than having saved me eternally from sin, I am one blessed woman and I will spend eternity giving you thanks.'"
DeMoss says developing a spirit of gratitude is like building a muscle. It takes work.
"Gratitude is, it's supposed to be a lifestyle. It's a habit," she explains, "And unfortunately it gets eclipsed by bad habits: the whining, the complaining, the murmuring, the pointing out things that we wish were different. But we can change that, as we lift our eyes upward off of our circumstances and say 'Lord You are amazing. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.'"
In her book, Choosing Gratitude, DeMoss recommends making giving thanks a priority for an entire month. She says a great way to do that is by keeping a daily journal, listing things for which you are grateful, both big and small.
"And I found that that discipline helped me to be conscious of, mindful of, things that otherwise I might have forgotten, I might not have noticed," she said, "And I think that's why Psalm 103 says 'Forget not all his benefits.'"
While you have your pen out, DeMoss also recommends writing thank-you letters to people who have blessed you.
"It can be emails, it can be texts, I do it that way, too, but I try to write some old-fashioned, long-hand thank-you notes to say 'I'm so grateful that you thought of me, for your kindness, for what you invested in me.' And you'll find if you write that kind of note you'll probably shock some people because it's so rare today."
In addition to writing words of gratitude to God and to others, DeMoss emphasizes voicing gratitude, speaking or singing them, in prayers, songs of praise words to others.
"We're much better at saying what we wish we had, what we have that we wish we didn't have, rather than saying thank you to God and to others for what we do have," she said.
So for better health, make a conscious effort to give thanks...a lot of it...every day. It's not easy, but well worth the effort.