I think Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday. And even though we tend to overeat on this four-day weekend--which may not be so good for our physiques--thanksgiving as a practice is so good for us.
Dr. Robert Emmons came to Chico last week and he spoke at Chico Adventist Church on gratitude. You might remember I mentioned him this summer. Emmons, UC Davis professor of psychology is a leading expert on the science of gratitude. (Here's a site that summarizes some of his work.) He reminded us that gratitude is good for our health, for our relationships, and for our giving to others.
“The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.” Robert Emmons.
I could put this in lapidary form (and I even think this is what Emmons himself stated):
Gratitude is one of the cheapest prescriptions for overall health we can find.
In a way this is nothing new. The psalms—and much of the rest of the Bible—know this. Let’s listen to one of the psalms describe this gratitude.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100
What then, from Psalm 100, is our theological grounding for a life of gratitude?
- We belong to God because God has created us.
- God is faithfulness and gracious.
- We enter into a life of worship with thanksgiving or praise.
And when we live in the way that God created, we find life.
Here again to quote Emmons:
“Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness.” Robert Emmons
When we live in the way that God created, we find life.
And I’ll add one: when we live this way, in gratitude, we are generous.
If you don’t mind a cutsy saying, Thanks leads to giving.
I was just at the American Academy of Religion conference where about 6000-8000 theologians, biblical studies specialist, and scholars of religion meet in various cities that can hold such an event. This year it was Boston. I find it an amazingly enjoyable event. I see all kinds of friends I’ve known over the years, meet publishers, and have some great lunches and conversations. Still, I must admit some of the papers are a bit arcane for the uninitiated. Here is a sampling of a few titles:
“Hacking Perception”: Techno-Entheogens, Virtual Reality, and the Vulnerability of Subjectivity”“Making America Humble Again: Humility and Magnanimity as Greatness in a Post-veridical World”
“’A Beau Ideal for Whosoever Hopes for God’”: Piety, Medicine, and Prophetics in the Medieval and Contemporary Middle East”
Besides this I also heard some really important research. One was delivered that the cognitive science section, a group that looks (in very general terms) at how our brain functions in relation to religious life and practice. One paper (and here's a similar one) presented a study of people with two types of God concepts: God A, who is Authoritarian and B God, who is Benevolent. Here's the payoff: If we see God as benevolent, we are more likely to be forgiving, to give to those outside our inner circle, and generally to act with kindness.
We become like the God we serve.
And who, we should ask, is our God? Is it God A that we read in Psalm 100?
“For good is the LORD, whose mercy is everlasting;
and whose faithfulness endures from age to age.”
Thanksgiving as a holiday is an amazing reminder for us to seek health and life to its fullest. But let’s not wait just for the holidays. Thanksgiving is far more important and far better than that. Indeed giving thanks might be the best prescription for health. And it is truly priceless. As the Psalm 92:1 declares, “It is good to give thanks.” Amen.