Shawn Achor, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard, suggests that we can train our brains to become more grateful by setting aside just five minutes a day for practicing gratitude. He cites a one week study in which people were asked to take five minutes a day, at the same time every day, to write down three things they were thankful for. They didn’t have to be big things, but they had to be concrete and specific, such as, “I’m thankful for the delicious Thai take-out dinner I had last night.” Or, “I’m thankful that my daughter gave me a hug.” Or, “I’m thankful that my boss complimented my work.” The participants simply expressed thanks for three specific things at the same time every day.
At the end of one month, the researchers followed up and found that those who practiced gratitude—including those who stopped the exercise after one week—were happier and less depressed. Remarkably, after three months, the participants who had been part of the one-week experiment were still more joyful and content. Incredibly, after the six-month mark, they were still happier, less anxious, and less depressed. The researchers hypothesized that the simple practice of writing down three thanksgivings a day over the course of a week primed the participants’ minds to search for the good in their lives.
We shouldn’t be surprised at the positive effects of giving thanks. God commands us to give thanks. The call to give thanks is repeated frequently in the Psalms and is most often connected with the steadfast love of God (see Psalm 136 for example). The practice of giving thanks lifts our gaze from the problems of this world to the glory of God. When we give thanks, we are reminded that nothing in this world, nothing in heaven or on the earth can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Giving thanks reminds us that the struggles and pain of this world are temporary, but the love of God is eternal.
Thanksgiving is to be a way of life for the believer. Gratitude should permeate our lives like oxygen fills a room. The practice of giving thanks takes discipline. It is very easy to focus on our circumstances and feel entitled that we deserve better. After all, life isn’t fair!
Thanksgiving serves as a corrective to this thinking. When we give thanks, we remember that everything we have is a gift from God. Therefore, humility and gratitude are appropriate responses. As the practice of giving thanks is nurtured and developed, we will find that the grumblings of our hearts will begin to diminish. Instead of complaining, we will be thankful and will find joy in the small things.
It is right and appropriate to set aside a day for Thanksgiving. But giving thanks should not be limited to just one day. Everyday should be filled with thanksgiving. Take a few moments each day to either write down or share with someone what you are thankful for. You can always begin with the steadfast love of God and then move from there to other things. As the habit of giving thanks is developed, you will find that your burdens are a bit lighter.