Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The science of thankfulness

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord” (Psalm 92:1)

Journal of Clinical Psychology
A study published August 2013 in the Journal of Clinical Psychology confirms what many previous research studies have concluded: Gratitude is good. Dr. Robert Emmons, UC Davis, and Robin Stern have found that clinical trials demonstrate the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and long lasting positive effects in a person’s life, including improved immune function, lower blood pressure, as well as reduced risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. Gratitude is defined as a “cognitive-affective state that is typically associated with the perception that one has received a personal benefit that was not intentionally sought after, deserved, or earned but rather because of the good intentions of another”. [1]

Robert Emmons and Robin Stern introduce the intriguing notion of incorporating gratitude as a psychotherapeutic intervention. They note that many rigorous, controlled experimental trials have examined the benefits of gratitude, which is linked more strongly to mental health and life satisfaction than any personality trait. These include such positive traits as hope, optimism, and compassion. Employing gratitude as a discipline offers protection against destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness. People who are thankful can more effectively cope with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy better physical health.

Thankfulness and coping ability
One of the most salient features of people who are grateful is effective coping, as revealed by a wide array of research studies, according to Psychology Professor Philip C. Watkins, Eastern Washington University. Thankful people positively reappraise negative events, leading to increased ability to cope. And, grateful processing of bad events helps to bring closure, decreasing the intrusiveness and negative affect of troubling memories. [2] In the Bible, when Saul killed 85 priests and was seeking David’s life (1 Samuel 22), David reappraised the negative events and said to God: “I will give you thanks forever” (Psalm 52:9).

Gratitude and thankfulness research project
In research conducted over eight years by Robert Emmons, it was discovered that those persons who kept a gratitude journal on a weekly basis or engaged in daily gratitude exercises reported the following:
• fewer physical complaints
• more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals, such as academic achievement, compared to subjects in other experimental conditions
• higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination and energy
• more likely to help another person with a problem [3]

The Apostle Paul had more reasons than most of us to not be thankful: beaten with rods, stoned, left for dead, shipwrecked, stranded in the ocean, imprisoned, naked, cold, hungry, and no smart phone (2 Cor. 11:25). Nonetheless, Paul mentioned thankfulness or thanks at least 48 times in his New Testament writings. Often in spite of circumstances, he willfully chose to thank God:
“in everything give thanks” (1 Cor. 5:18)
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15)
“thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57)

[1] Robert A. Emmons and Robert Stern, “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention”, Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 69, Issue 8, pages 846–855, August 2013
[2] Philip C. Watkins, Gratitude and the Good Life, (Springer, 2013) pp. 159-174
[3] Robert C. Emmons, Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007).


biggestjesusfan said...

Hi I found your site when I was trying to find a good post to help me out because I want to witness to a friend who is deceived by Wicca. I read your statement of faith and I agree with everything I read but I just wanted to know if you guys lean toward Calvinism or Armenianism? Just curious. Thanks. -Kat

Bruce said...

Kat, I hope the Wicca information was helpful to you. The book by Catherine Sanders, "Wicca's Charm", may be useful. To answer your question, we lean toward Arminianism based on the multitudinous Biblical admonitions for humans to make choices (and other reasons). However, some Biblical justification can be found for hard line Calvinism (e.g., Eph. 2:1). We accept the five points of Calvinism, but not past the point where people never have a choice. Norm Geisler wrote a very good book, "Chosen But Free", which explores the issue in depth. Hope that helps.