Good Gratitude: To Science or God?
There are health benefits to thanksgiving, but motivation is the key.
It’s Thanksgiving, and that means scientists want to explain it without any spiritual stuffing. As can be expected, Live Science is there to tell us all about why you should be grateful without any reference to God (or to any other recipient, for that matter). Tia Ghose writes,
Dozens of studies have found that gratitude can improve well-being, and can even help people curb depression and anxiety, improve cholesterol, and get better sleep, said Robert Emmons, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, and author of “Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity” (Jossey-Bass, 2013).
“Grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence,” Emmons wrote in an email. “Gratitude is good medicine.”
This all may be true, but isn’t the point of gratitude being thankful TO somebody? It seems pointless to be grateful to yourself, or to pretend to be grateful for selfish reasons like “emotional prosperity” for yourself. To give thanks TO somebody for a body (7/25/14) that can eat a home-cooked meal and enjoy it with a brain (7/26/14) that is the most complex and organized piece of equipment in the universe, there’s only one choice of recipient.
The Lord had to command human beings to give thanks, not just because it is good and right, but because it is against our natural inclinations as fallen creatures. Although not stated explicitly in the 10 Commandments, it is implied; in fact, thankfulness is a key to keeping them all. Think about it. If I thank God, why would I want to make an idol? If I thank my parents, why would I ever wish to dishonor them? If I’m thankful for what I have, why would I covet? Try that with the other 7 commandments.
Giving thanks takes our attention off ourselves. It stops demanding what we consider our “rights.” Remember the grumbling Israelites after leaving Egypt? (Moses, YOU brought us out here; now what are you going to give us to eat?). Gratitude focuses our attention on blessings (Lord, how awesome are your works in opening a path through the Red Sea!). Instead, their thanklessness doomed that generation to fall in the wilderness. A thankful spirit, I’m sure, would have changed the history of Israel and swept them into the Promised Land 40 years earlier. Imagine if the Israelites had said when hungry and thirsty, “Lord, you are so good to us! You saved us from slavery and the Egyptian army; you have shown your mighty power over and over. We can’t wait to see how you will bless us next!” Let’s try that attitude next time we have a prayer need. There’s strong Biblical precedent to believe God will fill that cup with overflowing grace. (Matthew 7:7-11, Philippians. 4:4-7).