Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Psalms 107:1
The last thing anyone wants to be told when they are suffering is to “be grateful.” This comment can feel trite to those experiencing loss, financial struggles, grief, relationship distress, or many other life stressors and tragedies. Although genuine listening and validation are important when encountering those who are suffering, the truth behind having gratitude has a depth most do not understand. There is a healing power in gratitude that is supported by scientific evidence and woven throughout the pages of the Bible. Gratitude does not diminish the suffering, but it allows for a different perspective.
Gratitude Rewires the Brain
An amazing thing about the brain is its incredible ability to adapt. In the field of psychology, we call this: neuroplasticity. Research supports findings that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” When repetition occurs within the neurons, they form what is known as a neural pathway. A neural pathway is a default setting, so to speak.
Our brains are wired for survival. Each second, our thalamus, housed above the brain stem, is scanning our environment for signs of danger. According to science, as a result, our brains are naturally inclined to search for negatives in order to protect us. As Christians, we know this probably also has something to do with our sin nature. This process causes neural pathways to be formed, defaulting us to the negative.
Over the past two decades, a vast amount of evidence has found that individuals who do not express gratitude are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, PTSD symptoms, low mood, and personality disorders. On the contrast, those who express genuine gratitude have better physical health, higher self-esteem, self-efficacy, higher levels of life satisfaction, happiness and psychological well-being. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886918306494
The beauty of neuroplasticity is that we have the ability to rewire the brain and reset our bent towards the negative. One of the ways we do this is through genuine gratitude.
Imagine you are walking through a large field filled with tall grass. The first pass through the field is more difficult, but as you repeatedly pass through the same spot, a new path is formed. This is how gratitude rewires the brain. As you practice gratitude, the repetition forms new neural pathways, and neuroplasticity takes place. These new neural pathways allow the brain to look for things to be grateful for. This becomes the new default setting. https://goforthrecovery.com/articles-news/addiction-recovery-neuroscience-gratitude-brain/
Gratitude in the Bible
The Bible is filled with verses about praise and gratitude. Throughout the Psalms, we find praise in the midst of suffering. Psalms 23:4 states, ” Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Psalms 5:11 states, “Let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice.”
“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” Psalms 9:1
Paul’s letters also point us to take a posture of gratitude. Romans 12:12 says “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
Philippians 4:4-7 says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice!. Let your gentleness be evident to all for the Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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 minds in Christ Jesus.” (Emphasis mine).
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1Thessalonians 5:16-18
One of the biggest blessings of the Christian life is that even through our suffering, we have hope in the person and promises of Jesus. We can have faith that he will work all things for our good (Romans 8:28). And that provides us with ALOT to be grateful for.