An Attitude of Gratitude
November 19, 2019 Blogs by: Tim Jennings, M.D.

It is Thanksgiving here in the United States of America again, and this affords us the opportunity to reflect on our blessings and give thanks to our Creator God.

In 2009, I wrote a blog entitled “Thankfulness and Your Health” in which I explored the research documenting the health benefits of having a thankful mindset.

Since that time, new research has confirmed the health benefits of gratitude:

  • A 2013 study found that gratitude was positively correlated with better physical and psychological health, and this positive effect on health increased with age. [1]
  • A 2013 study documented a link between the level of parents’ gratitude and the gratitude level of their children—with a greater linkage for mother-child relationship than father-child relationship. [2]
  • A 2015 study of hospital-based healthcare workers compared those who for four weeks journaled thankful work-events with those who journaled stressful work-events or didn’t journal at all. The study found that those in the thankful group had reduced stress and reduced depression scores compared to the other two groups. [3]
  • A 2016 study of 118 adults found that gratitude reduced the experience of loneliness and significantly predicted fewer physical health problems, such as sleep disturbance, headaches, respiratory infections, and gastrointestinal ailments. [4]

These benefits are likely related to the way that our thoughts, our choices in what we focus on, direct which brain circuits fire. When we focus on thankfulness, we activate the brain’s “love” circuits, which send a calming signal to the brain’s alarm system (amygdala), thereby reducing inflammation in the body. Love is calming—it casts out fear—when we are thankful.

Conversely, when we focus on negative or stressful events, we activate the brain’s alarm system, which increases fear and sends a “fight or flight” signal to our bodies, raising blood pressure, increasing heart rate, activating the immune system, and increasing inflammatory factors. If this isn’t turned off, if we stay in a state of heightened fear, these elevated inflammatory factors impair signaling between neurons, leading to fatigue, malaise, concentration and motivation problems, and sleep disturbance. Additionally, these factors cause insulin resistance, which elevate cholesterol and increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and depression.

Yes, gratitude, being thankful, is healthy for our minds, bodies, and relationships—just as God designed. So…

Psalm 136 The Remedy

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love gives life forever.

2 Give thanks to the only true God.
His love gives life forever.

3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love gives life forever.

4 to him who alone built the universe from nothing;
His love gives life forever.

5 to him who alone had the wisdom to make the heavens;
His love gives life forever.

6 to him who brought forth land from the deep waters;
His love gives life forever.

7 to him who created the great lights —
His love gives life forever.

8 the sun to rule the day,
His love gives life forever.

9 the moon and stars to rule the night;
His love gives life forever…

23 to the One who remembered us when we were helpless
His love gives life forever.

24 and freed us from our enemies,
His love gives life forever.

25 who provides food for all living things.
His love gives life forever.

26 Give thanks to the Creator God of heaven.
His love gives life forever.

If you want an attitude of gratitude, rather than mere platitude, always remember the beatitude: Happy are those who give thanks to our God of love. So give Him thanks and then give thanks to the people in your life.

[1] Hill, P., et al., Examining the pathways between gratitude and self-rated physical health across adulthood, Personality and Individual Differences; Volume 54, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 92-96

[2] Hoy, B., et al., Links Between Parents’ and Children’s Levels of Gratitude, Life Satisfaction, and Hope, Journal of Happiness Studies: August 2013, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 1343–1361

[3] Cheng, S. et al., Improving mental health in health care practitioners: Randomized controlled trial of a gratitude intervention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 83(1), Feb 2015, 177-186

[4] O’Connell, B., et al., Mediating effects of loneliness on the gratitude-health link. Personality and Individual Differences; Volume 98, August 2016, Pages 179-183

Subscribe To
New Blog Notifications
Tim Jennings, M.D. Timothy R. Jennings, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist, master psychopharmacologist, Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Fellow of the Southern Psychiatric Association, and an international speaker. He served as president of the Southern and Tennessee Psychiatric Associations and is president and founder of Come and Reason Ministries. Dr. Jennings has authored many books, including The God-Shaped Brain, The God-Shaped Heart, and The Aging Brain.