Our thankfulness glorifies God and makes Him happy: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” (Psalm 50:23). But God isn’t the only one affected when we give thanks.
Psychologists asked undergraduates to complete a survey that included a happiness scale and measures of thankfulness. Over six weeks, the participants wrote down, once a week, five things they were grateful for. This practice had a dramatic effect on their happiness score. The study concluded, “Students who regularly expressed gratitude showed increases in well-being over the course of the study.”[i]
Secular books on happiness document gratitude’s role in making people happier. But cultivating gratitude proves difficult for people whose worldview leaves them with nobody to thank! Yes, they can thank someone for loaning them a car or for being their teacher. But whom can they thank for sunshine, air to breathe, and the capacity to enjoy pleasure? People who don’t believe that a sovereign God is at work through the kindness of others must thank their “lucky stars,” random circumstances, or—at best—other people. Since people are small when compared to God, the object of their gratitude is small, shrinking their capacity for happiness.
God’s common grace offers unbelievers a degree of happiness that’s greatly enhanced through thankfulness. As Christ-followers, however, we find gratitude multiplied when we return it to God, the ultimate and primary source of all goodness.
When others encourage me, I seek to always thank God for the encouragement. My happiness stems from my gratitude to the God of providence, who orchestrates our encounter. God sends others to humble me, and they, too, are character-building gifts. It may not be as easy to thank God for them, but God calls on me to “give thanks in all circumstances,” not just some (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
The Greek word charis, often translated “grace,” means “that which is given freely and generously—‘gift, gracious gift.’”[ii] God’s grace is His giving to us, at great cost, what we don’t deserve (see 2 Corinthians 8:9). Second Corinthians 8–9 is the longest passage on financial giving in the New Testament; charis (“grace”) appears ten times. The passage ends with these words from Paul: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”
When we genuinely experience the good news of salvation in Christ, gratitude and happiness inevitably multiply.
May you have a happy, Christ-centered, full-of-gratitude Thanksgiving!
[i] S. Lyubomirsky, K. M. Sheldon, and D. Schkade, “Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change,” Review of General Psychology 9, no. 2 (2005): 111–31.
[ii] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996).
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.