Recently, a lady came to me very concerned about her mental state. She was struggling with depression and anxiety and her question for me was, “How do I keep from going crazy, like really losing my mind, because sometimes I feel like that’s where I am headed?” My mind’s eye can still see her eyes widen and her jaw drop when I gave her one simple solution: Practice gratitude daily.
You may be as surprised as she was as you’re reading this. It sounds too simple to have much impact, but impactful it is and significant enough that I was confident what I suggested could keep her in good mental health.
As a marriage and family therapist, it always excites me when science lines up with God’s Word because it lets me know the scientists are getting it right. And there is research within many well-respected universities and researchers that back up this principle of the power of gratitude.
Backing up this “gratitude principle” with Scripture is also easy. There are many scriptures about gratitude, but one of my favorites is Philippians 4:6-7:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests know to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds.
Most of the time we focus on the “not being anxious” and “turn things over to God” parts of this verse. These things are true, but we overlook the phrase, “with thanksgiving”. I’ve even heard people leave it out when they quote it! However, it is just as important and an integral part of our ability to leave anxiety behind.
You see, studies show that people who are daily practicing gratitude are happier and have less anxiety. Our minds are much like our physical bodies in that where our “head” goes our bodies follow. For example . . .
Gymnasts will fall off the balance beam if they look down.
Football players’ bodies follow where they are looking as they tackle or throw the ball.
Golfers will miss the ball when they don’t keep their eyes on it as they swing.
Drivers will veer off the road if they look away from it.
In the same manner, when we are only focused on our troubles or difficulties (even while in active prayer) our minds remain only on those problems with no thought of all the good things God has already done, is currently doing, or is capable of doing.
James 1:17 says, “every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, in whom there is no shadow of turning.” In other words, if you have things to be thankful for, they are a gift from God, and you can know that he continues to provide good things for His children because He does not change.
In addition, studies indicate that gratitude can bring about significant improvement in as little as two weeks for those struggling with depression. Interestingly enough, people who practice daily gratitude were more apt to exercise, eat healthier, and sleep better, which are all key factors in managing depression. And because practicing daily gratitude is a frame of mind rather than instant gratification, the positive effect on a person’s happiness is long lasting.
Last, but certainly not least, is the effect that gratitude has on our relationships. Gratitude improves relationships because it shifts our focus from the negative – flaws, irritations, or hurt – to the positive. The more grateful we are, the more patient we become with things that might not be the way we wish they were. Even our relationship with God improves with gratitude. Not that God has imperfections or does anything wrong, but when we can’t see what He sees or don’t understand His ways, gratitude reminds us of His goodness and the fact that He is trustworthy.
So during this holiday season, use Thanksgiving as a launching pad for developing your daily discipline of practicing gratitude. Here is the format given to us in Scripture in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
By the way, in case you’re wondering about the lady who asked the question at the beginning of this article, I saw her two weeks later and she had truly been “transformed by the renewing of the mind” and was confident that she would not go crazy. She beamed with joy from the Lord and in her relationships with others also.
Have a wonderful YEAR of Thanksgiving!