Heading into the holidays can seem like a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your life circumstances.
Some of us are looking forward to spending time around the Thanksgiving table, counting our blessings and carving the turkey. We can’t wait to put away the pumpkins and pull out the awesome bling of Christmas.
Others of us have experienced a loss this year. Perhaps a loved one passed, or you got laid off, or your marriage died. Perhaps your health is suffering, or a long-hoped for dream failed to materialize.
Life is full of curve balls. It’s also full of blessings.
We don’t get to pick what comes our way, but we do get to choose how we respond. And it’s our response that can result in healthy living and satisfaction of soul.
Here’s how it works physiologically:
According to Dr. Earl Henslin, author of This is Your Brain on Joy, the emotions of joy and anxiety travel the same pathway in the brain.
This means that if you choose joy, there is literally no room for worry in your brain. You’ve kicked it out!
So how do you choose joy? By giving thanks. By remembering all the good things that have happened, including the good things that have come out of the hard things.
Cynicism will tempt you think, That’s shallow and fluffy. I’m a realist, and life is hard.
Don’t go there, okay? Cynicism turns people into miserable curmudgeons. Gratitude lifts our spirits and makes us a joy to be around. It’s contagious.
Plus, it’s commanded in Scripture:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
God’s will for you is gratitude, and gratitude will change your world.
One evening, my husband and I were both battling depression. Instead of focusing on the negatives and allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed, we decided to start thanking God.
At first, it felt awkward and stilted.
We had to combat the lie that weren’t being “honest,” since we didn’t feel thankful. But you know what? Pretty soon we did feel thankful!
Our emotions followed our choice to give thanks. We felt better and better, and before we knew it, an hour of thanksgiving had passed. Our hearts were light and our perspective had completely changed.
By the way, notice I said we thanked God. We didn’t express some vague sentiment of thankfulness with no object. We recognize who is in charge of our lives — the Father of lights from whom all good gifts come. (James 1:17)
Imagine going to a birthday party where the honored guest opens and enjoys your gift, but never actually thanks you for it. That doesn’t really work, does it?
Recently, I had a conversation with an agnostic who said, “When I experience something great like a road trip on a perfect afternoon, I feel at a loss as to whom to thank. You have someone to be grateful toward.”
Indeed I do. The Lord Jesus Christ is my source of hope, peace and joy. No matter what challenges life throws at me, he gives me countless gifts in the midst of them.
In fact, Jesus himself is the best gift I will ever receive –and when I choose to give him thanks, my brain has no room for anxiety.
What can you thank God for right now?