(from “The Daniel Plan – 40 Days to a Healthier Life”)
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in allcircumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
Another way to discipline your mind—that feels good—is to bring your attention to the things you are grateful for in your life. Research reveals that being consistently grateful will have a positive effect on your health. God designed us in such a way that gratitude promotes healing.
A Yale University research study evaluated more than 2,000 veterans between the ages of 60 and 96 to assess which traits helped them age successfully. Gratitude and purpose were the most significant traits associated with successful aging. Your attitude matters.
Another study, from University of California-Davis, examined the effect of a grateful outlook on psychological and physical well-being. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions. They kept weekly or daily journals to write about hassles, gratitude, or neutral events. They also recorded their moods, coping behaviors, health behaviors, physical symptoms, and overall life appraisals. The grateful group exhibited the most heightened well-being.
The first thing on Dr. Amen’s master to-do list, the first thing he sees each day, is his gratitude list. Rather than just writing down a few things, he keeps a running tab on what he is grateful for, looks at it every day, and adds to it as joyful moments occur.
Where you bring your attention determines how you feel, and feeling grateful is a joyful place to be. This mind-set also helps your faith as you focus on God’s gifts to you. It helps you eat right as you focus on being grateful for the ability to eat delicious, healthy food that serves your body. It helps you maintain your fitness level as you feel grateful for the ability to move your body. And it helps your friends as you notice what you like about them more than what you don’t like.
Gratefulness actually helps your brain work better. Psychologist Noelle Nelson in her book The Power of Appreciation in Everyday Life described a study where she had a brain SPECT scan twice. The first time she was scanned after thirty minutes of meditating on all the things she was thankful for in her life. Then she was scanned several days later after focusing on the major fears in her life. After the appreciation exercise, her brain looked very healthy. The scan taken after she focused on her fears looked very different. Activity in two parts of her brain had significantly dropped. Her cerebellum completely shut down.
The other area of Dr. Nelson’s brain that was affected was the temporal lobes, especially the one on the left. The temporal lobes are involved with mood, memory, and temper control. Problems in this part of the brain are associated with some forms of depression, but also dark thoughts, violence, and memory problems. Practicing gratitude literally helps you have a brain to be grateful for.
Here is a helpful exercise: Write down three things you are grateful for every day. The act of writing down your grateful thoughts helps to bring your attention to them to enhance your brain. Research from University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman demonstrates that when people do this exercise, they notice a significant positive difference in their level of happiness in just three weeks. Other researchers have also found that people who express gratitude on a regular basis are healthier, more optimistic, make more progress toward their goals, have a greater sense of well-being, and are more helpful to others. Doctors who regularly practice gratitude are actually better at making the correct diagnoses on their patients.
Notice the connection Philippians 4:6-7 makes between gratitude and peace of mind: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It’s not enough just to present your requests to God. Do it with thanksgiving if you also want peace of mind.