A new study demonstrates the amazing power of gratitude

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A new study demonstrates the amazing power of gratitude

July 11, 2024 -

Close up of woman at home writing in her gratitude journal. By Daisy Daisy/stock.adobe.com

Close up of woman at home writing in her gratitude journal. By Daisy Daisy/stock.adobe.com

Close up of woman at home writing in her gratitude journal. By Daisy Daisy/stock.adobe.com

Amidst all the bad news in the news this week, let’s focus today on some good news.

A new study of gratitude and mortality among older adults (in this case, older US female nurses) found that those who more frequently noticed and felt grateful for positive experiences tended to live longer. This report is by no means an outlier.

For example, psychologists recruited a group of participants and asked one third to write up to five things for which they were grateful that week. A second group was asked to record hassles or irritations; a third was told to record events that affected them over the week. After doing this for ten weeks, those in the gratitude group:

  • Rated their life more favorably than those in the other two groups, both with regard to life as a whole and in relation to the upcoming week.
  • Experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness.
  • Spent significantly more time exercising.

In another study, participants who wrote letters of gratitude to other people were happier and more satisfied with life. They also experienced decreased symptoms of depression.

Cicero would not have been surprised, calling gratitude “not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Plato likewise claimed, “A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts to itself great things.”

Scripture similarly commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and to give thanks “always and for everything to God the Father” (Ephesians 5:20).

Why?

How?

And how does this discussion relate to the massive cultural issues we face today?

The great grief of my life

Gratitude in challenging times does not require naivety or minimize the suffering we face. Nor would I suggest that we will always find reasons for gratitude that outweigh the pain to which we are responding.

I am grateful for the wonderful support our family received when our oldest son was diagnosed with cancer, but I would much rather he not have experienced that ordeal. The same with our grandson who is continuing his leukemia treatments; we are very grateful that he is doing well, but we would much rather he and his family not have to fight this battle.

I am grateful for the ways I learned to trust God more deeply when my father died at the age of fifty-five, but I wish he had lived many more years. The great grief of my life is that my father never met my sons.

My purpose is not to commend gratitude as an end in itself. Rather, my principle reason for encouraging gratitude to God in the midst of adversity is that it can turn adversity into greater reliance on him.

Paul testified that he had “learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:12). “Plenty” and “abundance” bring their own temptations to self-reliance. Moses was grieved that when the Israelites “grew fat, stout, and sleek,” they “forsook God” and “were unmindful of the Rock that bore you” (Deuteronomy 32:15, 18).

By contrast, looking for ways God is at work in challenging times encourages us to trust his omnipotence and grace. David could testify regarding his past experience with God: “I know that the LORD saves his anointed” (Psalm 20:6a). As a result, he could trust him with the future: “He will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand” (v. 6b). And with the present: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (v. 7).

As J. Warner Wallace noted on a recent Denison Forum Podcast, this hope should fill us with gratitude that only believers can share.

“Viewing a movie after you’ve read the book”

How does this work in practice?

  • As a native Houstonian, I am grieving for the millions in the city who are still without power in the midst of dangerous heat and humidity. But I am grateful for the thousands who are mobilizing to restore electricity and for the many churches and ministries who are serving those in need.
  • As Russia’s horrific offensive against children and other innocent victims continues, I am grateful for the Ukrainians’ incredible resolve and courage.
  • As controversy regarding President Biden’s future escalates, I am grateful to live in a nation where we are free to vote as we wish and to speak our minds regarding even the most powerful among us.

And as I continue to speak biblical truth to the issues of our day, I am deeply grateful for the providential hand of God in our ministry. I take heart from Oswald Chambers’ observation:

“The spiritual saint never believes circumstances to be haphazard, or thinks of his life as secular and sacred; he sees everything he is dumped down in as the means of securing the knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

Max Lucado wrote:

God is using your struggle to toughen you up. It’s like viewing a movie after you’ve read the book. When something bad happens, everyone else gasps at the crisis on the screen. But not you. Why? You’ve read the book. You know how the good guy gets out of the tight spot.

God views your life with the same confidence. He’s not only read your story, he wrote it. His perspective is different, and his purpose is clear. One of God’s cures for weak faith? A good, healthy struggle.

Lucado therefore encourages us to “join with Isaiah who resolved, ‘I will trust in him and not be afraid!’” (Isaiah 12:2 NLT).

Why do you need such “trust” today?

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Thursday news to know:

Quote for the day:

“God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless he has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.” —Peter Marshall

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