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Why Thanksgiving is good for you

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The average American will consume 3,000 calories eating dinner today. Drinks, dessert, and appetizers can bring the total count to 4,500. Experts warn us that half the weight we gain during the holidays can stay with us into next summer. Now aren’t you glad it’s Thanksgiving Day?

Actually, we should be. “Happy Thanksgiving” is more than a wish for today—it’s a fact: those who give thanks are happier than those who don’t.

CNN has a fascinating report on the positive effects of gratitude. Neuroscientists have discovered that thankful thoughts produce pleasure in the brain. That’s not surprising. But they have also found that such thoughts stimulate areas of the brain regulating stress.

In addition, multiple studies have connected gratitude with resilience. Counting blessings was a factor in managing post-traumatic stress for Vietnam War veterans and served as an effective coping strategy for many after 9/11.

The more grateful you are, the more likely you are to exhibit patience and self-control. College students who instituted methods for increasing gratitude such as keeping a gratitude journal slept longer and better. And couples who exhibit thankfulness tend to be more committed to each other and are more likely to remain in their relationships.

In short, thanksgiving is good for us. And the spiritual benefits of gratitude are even more significant.

This week we’re discovering reasons why God calls us to be grateful people. We’ve learned that thanksgiving encourages our humility and deepens our faith. Here’s another reason why gratitude is so central to spiritual health: thanksgiving glorifies God.

When you stop to give thanks today, everyone who sees you sees your faith on display. Your family and friends see that your faith is real and personal. If you’re in a restaurant or other public place, those around you see your light on its stand as it “gives light to all in the house” (Matthew 5:15). The more public your thanksgiving, the more powerful your witness.

The connection between giving thanks and proclaiming our faith is one reason thanksgiving is such a common biblical theme. The Jewish people were instructed to give thanks for their meals (Deuteronomy 8:10). We read that “Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11). Paul did the same (Acts 27:35).

Such gratitude consecrates the food we receive (1 Timothy 4:4–5). We “eat to the Lord” if we give thanks to him first (Romans 14:6, NIV).

For these reasons, the theologian Aristides (ca. AD 123) said of Christians that “over their food and over their drink they render God thanks.” Tertullian (died AD 225) testified that believers “do not recline at a banquet before prayer be first tasted—and in like manner prayer puts an end to the feast.” In monastic orders, each dish is blessed before it is set on the table.

Since thanksgiving is so important to our witness, let’s resolve to make today’s holiday a holy day by making time to express genuine gratitude to our Father. Then let’s do the same tomorrow. Since we are called to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), every circumstance can be a platform for praise and opportunity for ministry.

If you truly give thanks today, someone else is more likely to give thanks tomorrow.