Since receiving a chronic illness diagnosis many years ago, I have always been on the lookout for new things to try in order to feel better. (Especially if those things are simple, easy, and don’t require taking another medication.)
As it turns out, when God commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) He knew it would not only make us feel good, but it would also work for our good.
Because there are some amazing health benefits to practicing gratitude.
Who knew something as simple as saying, “thank you” could go a long way in improving our overall health and mood. (Well, obviously God did!)
What is gratitude?
Gratitude means the “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
It’s a strong feeling of appreciation for someone or something. It’s about focusing on what you have . . . rather than what you lack. Which helps you to feel happier and more content.
Because by choosing to focus on the positive, you end up feeling less negative.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”-Colossians 3:15 NIV
What does God say about ungratefulness?
God takes ungratefulness seriously because He knows the damage it can do in our lives.
If we refuse to be grateful it can lead to hard, bitter hearts. And it can even lead to idolatry and pride.
Because we might begin to think it is all up to us. That we are the reason we have what we have. Rather than being thankful to God for it all.
This can cause us to turn away from God, idolizing ourselves, and puffing up with pride over all we have accomplished. Instead of recognizing and acknowledging that God is in full control of everything that happens under the sun.
And that if we are breathing right now . . . it is simply because He wants us to.
“What do you have that you did not receive?”-1 Corinthians 4:7 NIV
What are 5 benefits of practicing gratitude?
We belong to God and because of Him we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. (James 1:17) When we recognize this and choose to be thankful for all we have been given, it alters our whole perspective on life.
We stop comparing ourselves to others and instead recognize the blessings of what we already have.
This is why being grateful is a very helpful and beneficial practice.
Read on to discover why gratitude is good for your health and how gratitude can improve your life.
1) Practicing gratitude puts us in a better mood.
There is a relationship between gratitude and happiness. When we think about all that we have . . . it is hard not to feel better. Just as when we think about all we are lacking . . . it makes us feel sad.
If we want to be in a better mood, simply sitting down and thanking God for the things we have can have a profound effect on our attitude.
Practicing gratitude also helps our mood because it helps to change our perspective.
When we realize that because we have a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs, we are richer than 75% of the world . . . it really puts things in perspective.
And it helps us realize how truly blessed we are.
Count your blessings one by one and you will be smiling by the time you are done!
Emotional Health Benefits of Gratitude:
- Improved mood.
- Feelings of happiness and contentment.
- Less negative emotions.
- Fuels our desire to be generous and compassionate.
- Keeps bitterness at bay even when we are hurt or betrayed.
- Higher self-esteem.
2) Practicing gratitude helps us grow closer to God.
There are quite a few benefits of being thankful to God. And one of them is that it helps us grow closer to Him because we realize how much He really loves us.
Gratitude can also help to deepen our understanding of our salvation. What it cost God. And how grateful we should be for it.
Another benefit of practicing gratitude it that it helps us to trust God as we reflect on His past faithfulness and provision for us. Knowing if He provided for us then . . . He will surely provide for us now.
Everything we have is a gift from God.
It all comes from Him. So, we should thank Him for it. And let our gratitude draw us closer to Him.
Spiritual Health Benefits of Gratitude:
- Growing closer to God.
- Feeling positive even in life’s difficult moments.
- Having a deeper understanding of our salvation.
- Guards against idolatry and pride.
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”-Hebrews 12:28 ESV
3) Practicing gratitude can help your health.
You may wonder how does gratitude improve your health?
It seems kind of silly and yet if you look at gratitude and health research studies, they are finding it is true.
There really are many amazing positive health benefits of gratitude. Which should make us realize the value of slowing down and recognizing all the good things in our lives.
Physical Health Benefits of Gratitude:
- Improved sleep.
- Increased levels of immunity and lowered risk of disease.
- Better heart health.
- Helps lower chronic pain.
- Increased desire to exercise.
- Lowers blood pressure.
4) Practicing gratitude improves our relationships.
When we show gratitude to others it improves our relationships with them. Allowing us to have more intimate and deeper connections with those around us.
Everyone wants to be noticed and appreciated. And we all want to be around people who make us feel good.
Just by being grateful for the people in our lives we can make a real positive difference in our relationships.
So, reach out to someone today. Tell them how you feel about them through a text, email, phone call, or even over a cup of coffee.
It will not only help us feel good. But it will also bring a smile to their face as well.
Because sharing kindness and gratitude for someone helps both of you!
Relational Health Benefits of Gratitude:
- Closer and deeper relationships with those around us.
- More connections and a stronger sense of community.
- Lessened feelings of loneliness.
- Fuels our desire to be generous and compassionate.
5) Practicing gratitude changes your brain.
There is a saying that “behavior changes biology”. The effects of gratitude on the brain can be seen when you think about the science behind it.
Being thankful helps to release the hormone “oxytocin”. This hormone has been called the “love hormone” because it causes feelings of love and affection to rise up within us.
It’s a feel-good hormone. And we can get more of it simply by saying, “Thank you.”
It’s pretty neat to realize that we can use gratitude to rewire our brains. And that by consciously counting our blessings we can help reduce toxic emotions and think more positively.
Our thoughts influence our behaviors. So what we focus on is what we will experience more of.
By focusing on all we have to be grateful for, we will find even more things to be thankful for.
It’s a beautiful cycle.
Mental Health Benefits of Gratitude:
- Improved sleep.
- More positive mental well-being.
- Decreased feelings of depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions.
- Increased motivation.
- Increased desire to engage in the world around us.
- Increased empathy for others.
- Inner strength and resilience.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”-Philippians 4:6-7 NLT
4 Practical and Simple Ways to Practice Gratitude
So, now we know why we need to be thankful. But we may not understand how to practice gratitude. What does this look like in our everyday, chaotic lives?
Well, by learning a few practical and simple tactics we can learn how to practice gratitude every day.
So, that we are truly changed. From the inside out.
1) Start a gratitude journal.
This is hands down the best way to help you practice gratitude and improve your mood.
When we write, we move from the emotional right side of our brains to the more logical left side of our brains. This helps us to see things a little more clearly. Which in turn helps us realize how blessed we really are. And this in turn helps feelings of thankfulness and happiness to fill our hearts.
Take the time to really think about everything you have been given. And realize what a gift it all really is. And then spend just a few minutes writing down 5-10 things you are grateful for.
Do this every day and you can make practicing gratitude a consistent habit.
Another thing to keep in mind is that what you do in the first 5 minutes of your day has been shown to greatly affect the rest of it. So, why not make writing a few things down in your gratitude journal the first thing you do in the morning?
Because it will make for a great start to your day.
***Another great practice is to review your list once a week. (Perhaps every Sunday.) By reviewing all the things you have written down during the week, you will feel even more grateful for everything you have.
“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”-Colossians 2:6-7 NLT
2) Choose to practice gratitude.
Our brains are hard-wired to problem solve so we aren’t naturally going to be content and grateful for our circumstances. Because our brains are always looking for the issues it needs to fix in order for us to survive.
So, if we want to learn how to practice gratitude, we need to realize it’s something we must choose to do. It’s going to take conscious effort. And consistency.
We’re going to have to keep trying to practice gratitude daily. We’re going to have to come back to it when we mess up and forget. We’re going to have to keep reminding ourselves to practice being thankful.
And just knowing that it’s going to take some work will help us to be more intentional about being thankful.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.”-Psalm 136:1 NLT
3) Remember who God is and what He has done.
We can praise God for His steadfast love, eternal life, forgiveness, His past faithfulness to us, and for who He is . . . His character.
The fact that He gives us His perfect love, amazing grace, relentless mercy, and undeserved forgiveness. The fact that God holds the entire universe in His hands . . . and yet He still cares deeply about the smallest details of our lives.
The fact that He is a sovereign God who passionately and intimately knows and loves us. And He delights in giving good gifts to us.
How could we not want to thank Him for all of this?
“Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods.”-Psalm 95:2-3 NLT
4) When life is hard . . . practice gratitude more!
When life is hard . . . we need to practice gratitude even more. Remembering the good things we have makes it a little easier to get through the difficult moments.
And it helps us hold onto hope.
This doesn’t mean it is easy to do. But by making the effort to find the good even in the hard, it makes getting through the hard a little easier to endure.
But how do we do this?
We can be thankful even in the hard times when we remember who God is and who we are in Him.
That He is with us every step of the way. That He is still in control. That nothing can separate us from His love. And that He will sustain, strengthen, and carry us through it all.
Knowing and trusting God is what fuels our praise and thanks even in the hard times that threaten to shake our faith.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that God commands us to be thankful “in” all circumstances. Not “for” all circumstances.
“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”-1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT
The Greek word in this verse is “en” which translates best to our English word “in”.
This is helpful to know because we really can’t be thankful “for” all things. Especially during the hard seasons of suffering. But we can choose to be thankful “in” them, because there is always something we can be thankful for.
And God knows that when we take the time to be thankful in the hard moments, it gives us a little bit of joy and hope to help us get through it all.
For example, I may not be thankful “for” my chronic illness, but I can be thankful “in” it for the chances it gives me to rest (even if it’s because of dizziness and vertigo).
I can be thankful that this illness has helped to grow my faith and has helped me experience God in new and intimate ways.
I can be thankful for all the people I have been able to encourage because I understand what they are going through.
I can be thankful for all the doctors, nurses, and medical staff that have taken care of me over the years. And that I have had the chance to pray for them while being a very kind and understanding patient.
God can use our suffering to grow us in ways happiness never could.
Like the pain of childbirth, where a mother forgets her pain because of the precious child she holds. We will forget our pain when we see the blessed fruit of righteousness our seasons of suffering have produced in our lives.
Contentment can never be found in our circumstances. Because our circumstances can always change.
But we can find contentment despite our circumstances because we know Christ will strengthen us and give us the grace for whatever we may face.
We can also be thankful when we remember that suffering produces:
- Perseverance. (Romans 5:3)
- Character. (James 1:2-4)
- A big picture perspective and future glory. (Romans 8:18)
The truth is we can be thankful even in our seasons of grief. because we have Jesus. And because of Him, it will all be worth it in the end.
“Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.”-Hebrews 13:15 NLT
How to feel gratitude.
The secret to how to FEEL gratitude is to simply start practicing gratitude.
Our hearts tend to follow our actions. So, if we start doing what we can to practice gratitude then we will naturally feel more and more grateful. And we will find ourselves noticing even more things to be thankful for.
So, start a gratitude journal today. Actively look for things you can be grateful for. And reach out to a few people you can thank today for all they have done for you.
By taking small steps we can learn how to make gratitude a habit.
Because the goal is for gratitude to become a way of life, naturally flowing out of a recognition and appreciation of God’s goodness to us.
And when that happens, our moods will improve. We will find happiness, joy, and gratitude welling up in our hearts.
Because a grateful heart is a happy heart.
And who wouldn’t want more of that?
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