Research has shown that practicing gratitude boosts the immune system, bolsters resilience to stress, lowers depression, increases feelings of energy, determination, and strength, and even helps you sleep better at night. In fact, few things have been more repeatedly and empirically tested than the connection between gratitude and overall happiness and well-being. Experts confirm, over and over again, that those who would consider themselves happy are those who also consider themselves grateful.
Even though there is a preponderance of evidence for the benefits of thankfulness, most people do not practice gratitude. In a survey done by Janice Kaplan for her book The Gratitude Diaries, she found that while “more than 90% of people think gratitude makes you happier and gives you a more fulfilled life … less than half regularly express gratitude.” When was the last time you said anything more than an obligatory “Thank You” to the waitstaff at a restaurant or a wave of appreciation for the kind soul who held the door open for you at the bank? Have you experienced the benefits of a lifestyle of gratitude?
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16
The words of Paul tell us that those who have been transformed buy the good news of Christ will be singing to God with gratitude. This act of singing may be figurative, or it may be a first century way of saying what the researchers of today contend: gratitude brings a melody to mind. It is quite possible that Paul knew the same link between happiness and gratitude that Kaplan has now written about. It is likely that the God who created us, in all our complexity, inspired the Apostle to pen the connection between singing and gratitude woven into our DNA.
Perhaps you would accept a challenge, an experiment to test the veracity of modern sociology and ancient biblical interpretation: we could practice expressing our gratitude with the objective of placing a song on our lips. We could be thankful, to God to others, for the blessings they bring into our lives. We could show appreciation for the acts of service friends and strangers perform on our behalf. We could return kindness when we experience it. We could discover whether or not these disciplines of gratitude make us happier and allow us to feel greater contentment. We could be happier.
In this season of harvest, we have much to be thankful for: most of us have more than we need, whether it be as little as a bed instead of a dirt floor or as much as a home with as many bathrooms as inhabitants. God has orchestrated all the functions of nature to allow our bellies to be filled and our bodies to be useful. We, each and every one of us, have reason to express gratitude. It is a good time to give thanks unto the Lord.
Tomorrow we, as a nation, will celebrate an event that took place 239 years ago – the unanimous passage of the Declaration of Independence by the 2nd Continental Congress, giving birth to the United States of America. Among other noteworthy phrases in this historic document is the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” While we wave our flags and watch some fireworks, I hope we can celebrate the hopes contained in our forefathers’ words.
- We have been endowed by our Creator with the right to life. These words convey a hope that we, as Americans, have the divine right to live our lives free from governmental interference. Fully understanding that there was a necessity for civil order, our forefathers longed for a society of people who could live as they desired where they desired.
- We have been endowed by our Creator with the right to liberty. This phrase, likewise, carries a promise to a livelihood free from oppression. The life given by the Creator is a life of freedom where we, as citizens, have the privilege of unlimited opportunity.
- We have been endowed by our Creator with the right to pursue happiness. It is interesting that we are not promised happiness, but only the right to pursue it. This again is a divine bestowal of a livelihood that brings us contentment and pleasure. We are a nation which holds as primary the right to chase our dreams and pursue our happiness.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
As I look at the above scriptures, I see these principles in reverse order: Our Creator, through Christ, has endowed us with Life, Truth (which will set you free) and the Way (to pursue ultimate happiness in our eternal dwelling place). This is where the challenges lie for all who seek what the 2nd Continental Congress described. We are not given the right to life as we define it, or liberty as we define it, or the pursuit of happiness as we define it. We are given the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as defined by the Creator and demonstrated through Christ. My rights are not self-centered, in that I cannot simply do whatever I want, but society-centered, knowing that I live and exercise freedom to seek satisfaction in the midst of a community.
Our creator has endowed us with inalienable, irrevocable and irremovable, rights. Let us celebrate the right to life – from our first heartbeat to natural death – for all of our citizenry (irrespective of race, gender, economic status or intellectual ability). Let us celebrate the right to liberty and work for the elimination of all things that would put our citizenry in bondage (everything from addictions to usury to trafficking). Let us celebrate the right to the pursuit of happiness, recognizing that there is no peace or contentment by reveling in sin or diminishing our neighbor’s welfare.
Happy Independence Day!