The Science of Thankfulness

God’s Word tells us to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Of course, every Thanksgiving, thankfulness is on the forefront of our minds! This week, we are reminded to pause and thank God for the many blessings in our life – our family, our friends, food, shelter, coffee

 

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But what about when this week comes and goes? 

 

Why does God want us to be thankful ALL the time? 

 

Surprisingly enough, there are many positive physiological changes that take place inside the body of someone who spends time practicing gratitude. These include measurable changes in mood neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, as well as social bonding hormones like oxytocin, and cognitive and pleasure-related neurotransmitters like dopamine. 

 

In other words, thankful people are happier, feel closer to their family and friends, and can think more clearly!

 

Further, thankfulness produces significant improvements to the inflammatory and immune response through the release of cytokines. It also causes a reduction in stress through the release of cortisol, leads to improvements in blood pressure and cardiac rhythms, and has a positive effect on blood sugar!

 

Recently, a study published out of Berkley found that individuals seeking help from a mental health professional saw a 23% reduction in their depression levels simply by writing letters of gratitude to someone in their lives. This reduction was not dependent on the actual giving of the letter to that person – simply writing the letter was enough to invoke a positive psychological response!

 

Feeling and expressing gratitude can happen in many ways. It can be applied to your past, in terms of retrieving positive memories and being thankful for past blessings. It can be applied to your present, by being mindful of the day-to-day blessings in your life, and it can apply to your future, by maintaining a hopeful attitude. 

 

Here are 7 quick ways you can turn that frown upside-down and give yourself an attitude of gratitude!

1.    Say Thank you! Take time to thank the people in your lives for all the intangible gifts they give each day. Don’t wait for a huge gesture – consider gifts like compassion, friendship, laughter, support, and love!

2.    Be Present! It is difficult to feel true gratitude when your attention is divided. Therefore, take time to really focus on the person you are with in the moment. Even for a few seconds, take time to focus on how much you appreciate small things, like a sunny day, the food you are eating, the music you hear, or even the smells around you.

3.    Write a Letter of Thanks! Identify someone who has impacted your life and write them a letter explaining why they are so important to you, what you have learned from them, and how they have affected your life. You don’t have to share this letter with them, but doing so will not only positively impact you – but the benefactor, as well!

4.    Schedule Gratitude Moments! Plan at least a few minutes in your day to focus on gratitude. For example, just before bed, focus on what happened in your day that you are thankful for. This helps you shift from feelings of stress to feelings of gratefulness!

5.    Have a Happy Meal! No….not that kind of happy meal….One with your family and friends where you can share what you appreciate about them! For each of our children on their birthday, we take turns going around the dinner table telling them why we are thankful for them. Not only does it make us feel happy, you should see the way my children beam when they hear our words of encouragement!

6.    Avoid Complaining for an ENTIRE DAY! When we criticize others, or even ourselves, it is impossible to experience gratitude. Dare to take control of your thoughts and stay away from any negative talk for a whole day! After you master this, take the 21-day gratitude challenge! 

7.    Start a Gratitude Journal! Take some time each day to write down three blessings in your life. These don’t need to be big or life changing – even being grateful for something small can help change your perspective!

 

Try at least one of these tips this week and let me know how it goes! I hope it is helpful for you!