Thanksgiving Day encourages us to pause in the busyness of life. We gather together with friends and family to feast on turkey and all the trimmings while we savor the goodness of the Lord in our lives. We may avoid counting calories, but we do take time to count our blessings.
All too often, our minds dwell on problems not resolved, opportunities missed, relationships lost, promises not kept, faded dreams, fears of an uncertain future, regrets, and longings. While life does bring its share of challenges and disappointments, it also brings us great joys: problems solved, opportunities seized, relationships built, promises kept, dreams fulfilled, hope that reassures our fear—blessing upon blessing.
An attitude of gratitude provides a lifeline to carry us through the darkest moments and uncertainties of life as it reaches into the depths of our souls with awareness of God’s faithful provision for us. That same spirit of thankfulness causes our hearts to overflow with joy.
Researchers in the medical and psychological communities have been studying the impact of a positive attitude on our physical and mental health. Reports suggest that feelings of thankfulness not only encourage enjoyment of life, they also have a significant positive value in helping people cope with life’s challenges.
A few years ago, researchers Robert A. Emmons from the University of California, Davis and Michael E. McCullough from the University of Miami conducted a study on the dimensions of gratitude. They considered how an attitude of thankfulness influences our emotional and physical well-being. Their report included the following observations:
In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal, and health-based).
Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, and optimism, and lower levels of depression and stress. Apparently, the individuals they surveyed who reflected daily on their blessings experienced a healthier sense of well-being. How different life might be, for us and for our world, if we all kept a gratitude journal.
Recently, my husband and I ventured to the town of Provincetown near the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Our gaze was set on a slender tower reaching heavenward and marking Pilgrims’ Point. Stories about the Pilgrims and the voyage of the Mayflower whirled in my mind. I could hardly imagine what it must have been like for those travelers to anchor on that coastline in 1620.
As I uncovered the story of their voyage, I realized Cape Cod was not in their original plan. They were headed further south along the coast; however, storms prevented them from reaching their intended destination. Instead, they made their way along the Massachusetts coastline around the tip of Cape Cod.
I can imagine their dismay at plans thwarted. Disappointment. Discouragement. Despair. They sacrificed so much along their journey and fought through so many challenges, determined to turn dreams into reality, only to find themselves in a different place. Not at all what they had hoped for. Not at all what they had planned.
Yet they didn’t give up. They didn’t turn back in defeat. They paused and took time to collect their thoughts, replenish themselves after their arduous journey, and gather information about other options. Then they moved ahead with courage, with hope, with optimism—on to Plymouth and on to the future in a new direction. The next fall, 1621, they gathered together with friends and family for a harvest feast—not to mourn dreams unfulfilled, but rather to give thanks for blessings bestowed.
Gratitude for them was more than a simple word of appreciation for a meal. It was a spirit of thankfulness that welled from deep within and spilled over to those around them. They took into account their hardships and future uncertainties, yet they drew strength and hope as they celebrated a bountiful harvest. They chose to be grateful for God’s provision and they shared the blessings He had bestowed on them with others.
Now it’s our turn to pause from the challenges and busyness of life to promote our own health and well-being as we reflect on the blessings that are ours. May we take time, not just Thanksgiving Day but daily, to express gratitude to the Giver of those gifts, to share the bounty of life that is ours, and to let that spirit of thankfulness spill over in jubilant praise.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm 100: 1, 2, 4, 5).