Give Thanks, Get Healthy

Stepping under the spray of a hot shower in the morning always does it. A genuine “Ahh, thank you,” burbles out of me. This spurt of gratitude isn’t because the heat wakes me up or the aromatic body scrub jumpstarts another full day. The fact that I can shower daily with water that’s hot and clean is what prompts my thanks. After living in a part of South America where hot water was not the norm, each comfy shower in my North American life triggers a blip of authentic appreciation.

With an imminent holiday named for this action—thanksgiving—most of us are prompted or prodded to ponder gratitude. However, a life that resonates with gratitude is so much better. Sweeter. Even more healthy. A 2003 research article by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough described positive results in study participants’ physical well-being due to regular expressions of gratitude. Ng (2012) also discovered enhanced health, including better sleep and less depression, among people who were thankful. Basically, our brains are neurologically influenced when we express our gratefulness often. 

The understanding that being thankful is good for us has been understood for centuries. The Puritans, for example Thomas Manton (1620-1677), urged it: “And therefore praise and thanksgiving [are] greater helps to the spiritual life than we are usually aware of; for working in us a sense of God’s love and an actual remembrance of His benefits.”  

God is our is all-time Benefactor who blesses us with hot water, varying measures of health, people who care about us, and forgiveness for our innumerable sins. We have every reason to be thankful, and hardly any excuse not to be. Hebrews 13:15 exhorts, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually, which is the fruit of our lips.” 

Gratitude can come easily—under the spray of a showerhead or when the weather is agreeable and the birds are singing. Being thankful is harder, but still needful, when the water is too cool, our aches become disabling pain, or we’re alone and lonely.

Whether we must work on a holiday or can’t share that special, once-a-year meal with those closest to our hearts, whether Christmas ahead looks bleak or exams are a killer, gratitude is still possible, even imperative. I can thank God for all that I do have and experience. His spiritual blessings to you and me can’t be revoked or worn out. There’s no expiration date on how much he loves me and you, dispenses daily mercies to us, and looks on us with a father’s deep love.

Join me in growing a stronger habit of gratitude that improves our physical well-being and reprograms our souls to give thanks to the Lord, for He is good (1 Chronicles 16:34).

Check out Thomas Manton’s “One Special Duty—Thanksgiving." It’s a feast for the soul and a healthful lesson.

Karen Schmidt, BA, RN, is a contributing editor for the Journal of Christian Nursing.

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