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Harvard Medical School Reports on Research about Happiness

by: Stafford North | February 11, 2019

“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

“People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of childhood or past blessings), the present (not taking good fortune for granted as it comes), and the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude). Regardless of the . . . current level of someone's gratitude, it's a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further.

“Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

“One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

“Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week's assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.”

Such research should not surprise the Christian.  We did not have to wait for the research to know the value of being thankful.  Scriptures written from 2,000 to 3,000 years ago make that point clearly. God has told us “in all circumstances give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  And the Bible is filled with other passages that encourage us to be thankful.

Paul had been through so many difficulties and yet was thankful that he had come to know Jesus.  One writer found more than thirty passages in Paul’s epistles in which he was either giving thanks or encouraging others to give thanks.  And Paul is the one who says “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11).  So Paul is a case in point that giving thanks leads to being content.

God knew long before the researchers that the thankful person is more content.  That is why he has told us throughout Psalms and Proverbs and in many other places, to give thanks regularly.

There is actually no situation in life in which we cannot find something for which to be thankful.  Lost your job—be thankful for the job you had as you look for a new one. Had a car wreck—be thankful you are still here.  Have an illness—be thankful for the years of health you have had.  Lost a loved one—be thankful for the good years you had together.  Focus on the good things God has given you and not on the bad things of life. We are not yet in the perfect place.  The perfect place is yet to come.  Imagine living where all goes well and there are no problems or difficulties.

So the Christian lives in hope.  And the Christian has more to be thankful for than anyone else.

So, what are you thankful for right now?