Thanksgiving Food for Thought

November 21, 2022

We read in 1 Chronicles 16:34, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” I start this week’s Thanksgiving article with some food for thought (pardon the pun). Robert Orben said, “Old people shouldn’t eat health foods. They need all the preservatives they can get.” An anonymous author wrote, “It’s not the minutes spent at the table that put on weight, it’s the seconds.” From Reba McEntire, “To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.”

When you study happiness and joy in life you will always see thanksgiving closely connected to growing in both. W.J. Cameron said, “Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.” Epicurus once said, “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.” One final quote from Gerald Good, “If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily.”

Two researchers at Indiana University realized that most studies on the power of thankfulness were done on relatively healthy people. So, Joshua Brown and Joel Wong studied three hundred struggling college students who were all in counseling and reported low levels of mental health. One hundred were asked to write one letter of thanks to someone for three weeks. The second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity. They all continued to receive counseling during the trial.

The first thing they found was that writing the gratitude letters freed the students from toxic emotions. Further research revealed that in fact, it was the lack of negative emotion words, not the abundance of positive words, that explained the mental health gap between the gratitude writing group and the other writing group. They concluded that when you write about how grateful you are to others and how much other people have blessed your life, it might become considerably harder for you to focus on your negative experiences.

They also found that gratitude helps even if you don’t share it. Only 23 percent of participants who wrote gratitude letters sent them. But those who didn’t send their letters enjoyed the benefits of experiencing gratitude nonetheless. This suggests that the mental health benefits of writing gratitude letters are not entirely dependent on communicating that gratitude to another person.

I recommend you think about writing a letter of gratitude to someone. Do it regularly, whether you send it or not. I hope you will send it because it will be greatly appreciated by the person you send it too. But the mere act of writing the letter can help you appreciate the people in your life and shift your focus away from negative feelings and thoughts.

Finally, gratitude’s benefits take time to experience. It’s important to note that the mental health benefits of gratitude writing in their study did not emerge immediately, but gradually accrued over time. It took four weeks after the writing activities for the improved health to become obvious. This difference in mental health became even larger 12 weeks after the writing activities.

I can echo this result in my personal experience teaching others about thankfulness and living a thankful lifestyle myself. If we make a commitment to finding daily ways to be thankful we will experience increased happiness and joy in our lives as well as better mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Life is hard, and it is often unfair. You think about the year that has passed and perhaps you think it has been a good year. There are no guarantees that next year won’t turn into the year from hell. Just a little bit of hell can unravel our lives. Romans 8:28 reminds us of the power of being thankful and loving God as Paul writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” When life is hard and unfair a strong faith in God will not only get us through the trials, but bring goodness, growth, and wisdom as we learn to thank God for the good as well as the trials.

Do you think of yourself as a thankful person? Do you thank God for just the good times, or do you seek to find God in the bad, so you can be thankful always? Do you have a discipline to help you be thankful everyday? Do you believe all you have has been given to you by God? Can that make you a more thankful person?