By Bonnie Junell V. Abanid, Philippines
In my junior year in college, I attended a seminar on positive psychology. The speaker’s opening slides featured scanned photos of two brains—a degenerating one and a healthy one.
She then revealed that these photos were actually “before” and “after” pictures of the same brain, and no medication or surgery was involved in the recovery of the brain.
What had happened was, for weeks, the patient was asked to list a number of things he was grateful for every night before he went to bed. Seeing how drastic the effect of gratitude was on the brain, I was immediately moved to start doing it as a daily practice, especially as part of my prayer time.
Recently, while doing research on the effects of gratitude in the workplace, I was again reminded of the benefits of being thankful. Research has shown that gratitude decreases stress and depression, which in turn, increases happiness, resilience, and optimism. It also goes beyond psychological manifestations, contributing to better heart condition, sleep quality, mood, energy, and a stronger immune system.
Knowing that it’s good for me has motivated me to keep trying my best, and even when I’ve had a bad day, or when I am simply exhausted, I make it a point to thank Jesus for at least one good thing from the day. So many things happen in a day, so it’s not impossible to find something good to be thankful for.
I liken this to the end credits of a TV episode, which acknowledges all the people who made the story happen. Practicing this reminds me to acknowledge that God is continuously at work in my life, that everything I have and am able to experience all comes from Him.
My thanksgiving list includes a number of things, such as being able to wake up in the mornings, having an adequate supply of water for bathing, a safe commute to work and back, and being able to go for a walk with my neighbour.
I also thank God for the extraordinary events in my life, like getting hired after two years of unemployment, making a new friend at work, and being able to accomplish assigned tasks.
Being unemployed for two years was a difficult time as the pandemic took a toll on jobs. In those years, I had countless moments of despair and frustration. There were more days when I felt burdened due to lack of productivity. There were times where I doubted my purpose and direction. However, I am convinced that a day will never go to waste if I dig deeper beyond the surface and look for the good. I profit from my daily experience by cultivating thoughts of thanksgiving and there have been too many blessings one can overlook. Those thoughts expressed through prayer scaffolded my spiritual well-being which gave me the resilience to move forward despite the unknown future.
It’s not easy to feel thankful every day when our days don’t often go the way we hope it would, and especially in seasons when life gets really hard. Yet, we are reminded that seasons come and go. There will be times when a season of trials lasts for months or even years (two years and three months unemployed) but how you respond in these trials kindles your strength to keep on going.
And as I trace all these good gifts back to my Father (James 1:17), this brings me closer to Him and increases the joy in my heart. The more I acknowledge God in my daily needs—career, relationships, the more I see of His character—Father, Healer, Way Maker, and so on.
There is so much to be thankful for beyond the things I have and the relationships and experiences I get. When I see myself for the sinner that I am, I know I deserve punishment. Yet God is merciful, and I thank Him for His countless pardons.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 says: “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”. It’s interesting to see how God’s will is spelled out so clearly for us here—that it is to be thankful in everything so we can acknowledge His work in our lives. We are designed by God to be thankful creatures. And yet, more often than not, we tend to think God’s will is unknowable and unsearchable, because we think it has more to do with the specific kind of calling, e.g. finding “The Job” or “The One”, that He wants for us.
There can be moments when it is hard to praise and thank God. During the “wilderness” seasons, I give time to acknowledge the fact that I feel down, depressed, angry, or exhausted. But even as I acknowledge these feelings, I picture myself as passing through them, so that I do not wallow and sink into them. I am reminded of Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley… for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”. The word “through” indicates an opening that moves you out on another side. In trying seasons, it signifies that trials will have its endings too. More so, during these trials, the Lord is still with us all along the way.
It is normal to acknowledge the negative emotions that entails an unpleasant circumstance. Yet, we deserve to bounce back. Like things that are hard to do yet good for us, thanksgiving is worth pursuing, and we need to be intentional and commit to practising gratitude.
Where we can, may our tongues speak thanks. Can I encourage you to see what you can thank God for today?