The relationship between spirituality and mental health has long be an interest of mine. There are times when mental health professionals and the religious community seem to be at odds with one another. But it is always exciting to me when I see studies which reinforce the belief that spirituality and mental health are closely connected. So you can imagine my joy when I recently came across an article titled, "7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude."
The writer, Amy Morin, (as the titled suggests) identifies 7 benefits of living in a spirit of gratitude. Some of these benefits are related to physical well-being; others are directly related to relational and mental health. The benefits described are as follows::
1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. The practice of showing appreciation helps us to develop new and deeper friendships.
2. Gratitude improves physical health. "Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences."
3. Gratitude improves physchological health. By living in a spirit of gratitude we tend to get rid of toxic emotions such as: envy, resentment, discouragement, etc.
4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are simply more likely to deal with others in a mature and healthy manner.
5. Grateful people sleep better. "Counting our blessings" before we head to bed can make a significant difference in the quality of our sleep.
6. Gratitude improves self-esteem. "A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete's self-esteem."
7. Gratitude increases mental strength. Many studies have show that gratitude not only helps us to deal effectively with stress but can also play a role in overcoming trauma.
Now while this is all wonderful news, I will have to say that as I read the Bible, I find most of the principles described here scattered throughout its pages. The writers of the Bible are not shy in exhorting us to a lifestyle that is graced by a spirit of thanksgiving.
There are many verses that encourage us to live in a spirit of thanksgiving. A few that especially stand out to me are:
Phil. 4:6-7: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
1 These. 5:16-18: "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
Ps 100:4: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name."
Ps 95:1-2: "Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song."
Ps 103:2: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all of His benefits."
The Bible makes it very clear, there are benefits to living in a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving. In fact, living in a spirit of gratitude is simply good medicine. Giving thanks is a good medicine for the body, mind, and soul.
So, as the day of Thanksgiving approaches, let us "Give thank unto the Lord, and forget not all of his benefits." (Ps. 103). I am confident that both you, and those closest to you, will notice the benefits which come from practicing this mental health and spiritual discipline.
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.