Newspapers are dull, lifeless things that always seem to leave my fingers ink stained and my face smudged. I prefer the internet, it’s a much cleaner news source. But, despite newsprint’s nasty drawbacks, I still do read newspapers occasionally. Mainly because I’m always surprised at their content, especially all those smaller articles that exist below the headline pages; always some civil war in some nation I’ve never heard of or some kind of medical advance concerning Amazonian bacteria. Recently, while reading one of those quaint newspapers I was taken aside by a scientific piece on gratitude and its importance in overall health and wellness.
The article said that scientists have proved that gratitude improves a person’s mood many times over. If someone is thankful for, say, the Rolling Stones and they mention it at least a couple times a day to themselves, their brains release a powerful dose of some kind of feel-good chemical that sets them all right with the world. If someone likes the Rolling Stones enough to be thankful over a longer period, things get even better for them, like insider information for day trading or winning Powerball numbers.
As a result of all this, some doctors have started prescribing "gratitude intervention", where patients keep a journal of all the things that they are thankful for over a 21 day period. Scientists studied a group of people with neuromuscular disease and found that "gratitude intervention" resulted in greater amounts of high energy, positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group."
"Greater Amounts of High Energy, Positive Moods…"? The minute I read that line, I dropped the newspaper and walked down to Walgreen’s and picked up an old wire bound notebook and a pen and start ticking off all the things I had going for me. It sounded harmless enough and a whole lot cheaper than St. John’s Wart or Hemlock or Paxil or Provolone or whatever people are taking these days to stave off the blues. Within the hour my headache had gone away, my teeth had straightened, and my breathing had improved, leaving me so thankful that the pain in my knees immediately went away. It was apparently an upward spiral.
To be severely honest, the study kind of threw me off for a while. I’d always equated thankfulness as a response to something good. To think about thankfulness divorced from a purpose, other than that of boosting my sleep duration or bequeathing High Energy Positive Moods, kind of turned my stomach. Like watching a televangelist present faith with that same kind of slickness reserved for exercise regimens and car wash kits, "gratitude intervention" felt shallow and sickening.
Now, if neuromuscular disease can be healed by gratitude, rather than expensive and dangerous pharmaceuticals, I’ll be the first to recommend the natural alternative to anyone I know who contracts such an illness. But it just seems that if I start being thankful for no other reason than to get a leg up, it’s not really thankfulness anymore. It’s turned into something else, positive feelings maybe, but not thankfulness.
Thankfulness, to me, isn’t some kind of selfish shotgun appreciation for favorite rock bands so that all goes well with my medical problems. It seems more inward than anything, like one more modern manipulation, which seems like the complete opposite of thankfulness.
But, as I ‘m thinking about it just now, maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe being thankful helps reorient my soul in a way that it can turn the whole ship around, so to speak. So that if I start out being thankful with completely awful motives, maybe in the process of being thankful, things start to change in my heart. That would make sense. I think I started on my journey toward Jesus for similarly selfish reasons. Something along the line of, "I’ll walk the line if you fix everything that’s wrong with me." My pastor once said, "Are you selfish? Well, no more selfish than anyone else when they started out in this thing."
So, go be thankful. Be thankful so that you can get a big bag of loot and so your bunions don’t hurt anymore. It’ll probably help your heart while you’re at it.