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Issue 11-12

A New Drug for Health and Happiness
(preached at Jericho Road Church, Nov. 18, 2012)


Did you know that the scientific community has been studying the effects of gratitude on the physiological health of humans? Since around the year 2000, social scientists began turning their focus solely from abnormal psychology to healthy emotional habits and their impact on the way we live.

Wikipedia reports: “A large body of recent work suggests that people who are more grateful have higher levels of well-being. Grateful people are happier, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationship. Grateful people also have higher levels of control of their environments, personal growth, purpose in life, and self-acceptance. Grateful people have more positive ways of coping with the difficulties they experience in life, being less likely to try and avoid the problem, deny there is a problem, blame themselves, or cope through substance use. Grateful people sleep better, and this seems to be because they think less negative and more positive thoughts before just going to sleep.”

Yet, even with this truth, even with all the Scriptures that instruct us to give thanks, most of us fall into the ungrateful-wretch category than that of a people whose hearts are overflowing with appreciation—to God and to one another.

If I told you that a new prescription drug had just come on the market—a drug that had been trialed over the decades, and that scientists had discovered that regular usage would enable the user to reach a state of well-being—would you be interested?

Then if I went even further and said that clinical trials had proven that the daily use of this medicinal showed positive effects on mood neurotransmitters, positive effects on reproductive hormones and on social-bonding hormones, showed positive effects on cognitive and pleasure-related neurotransmitters, on inflammatory and immune systems, on stress hormones, on cardiac and EEG rhythms and on blood pressure as well as blood sugar—wouldn’t you rush out and say, “Let me have some of that stuff!”

If scientific studies have proved the positive impact of a lifestyle
attitude of gratitude, then we should all be working to develop
that kind of approach to living beginning today, shouldn’t we?


So let’s begin. Dr. Dan Baker, director of behavioral medicine at the National Center for Preventive and Stress Medicine, writes in his book What Happy People Know, “Your mind, when focused on appreciating has an unparalleled power to trigger physical and emotional healing.” Understanding that it is hard for people in normally busy circumstances but especially when experiencing trying events to focus the mind positively, Baker has developed the “Appreciation Audit.”

Dr. Baker cites studies that show the brain cannot process both fear (one of mankind’s dominate negative emotions) and appreciation at the same time. So the Appreciation Audit, when practiced, is designed to create a shield in the brain against fear, hate and anger. He recommends that learners start with a fundamental form of the Audit:

Reserve three minutes, preferably three times each day,
to think about something you appreciate.
Keep your mind focused until you feel the beauty of gratefulness rising.


This practice is not a lot of effort, but it does require intentionality. However, there is no better time to start that this season when our minds are focused on a national thanksgiving holiday.

I love it when the scientific community pats itself on the back for discovering something that has already existed throughout the centuries and been an essential practice of the Christian Church. All of these studies and their results make me think of that pithy Scripture from Proverbs, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21.

When I was a little girl, my mother told me, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never harm you.” My mother was wrong. In certain stormy and controversial passages of my life, I would much rather have been hit with a stick than overwhelmed with the barrage of wounding words that took us years and our ministry a decade to recover from.

Not only was Mother wrong, she was anti-scriptural, because Scripture is written out of a culture and a time when people thought words had power. God spoke, for instance, and the world was created. Christ cursed the barren fig tree, and it died. He said, “Peace, be still” to the raging winds and pounding seas (think of Hurricane Sandy), and the wind ceased and the waters were becalmed. “Be clean” brought about instantaneous healing of leprosy. There is power in words.

But we Christians of this word-engorged 21st century don’t really believe the Scripture. It must be metaphorical, illustrative. “Life and death are in the power of the tongue…” We know we don’t believe when we listen to the way our own mouths use words.

Scientists, however—the social science community, the medical researchers, the academy—are beginning to measure the impact of the word thanksgiving and a lifestyle that results in the habit of living with appreciation.

An Internet article titled “Three Big Benefits of Being Thankful Every Day” quotes the work of researchers. Seth Borenstein, science writer for the Associated Press, examines how being appreciative on a regular basis can impact our lives. “Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably impact peoples’ lives.” According to the studies:

1.  Being Thankful Improves Your Health. When a group of organ-transplant patients were asked to keep a daily gratitude journal while another group simply wrote about the basic details of their day, the group that regularly listed what they were thankful for scored significantly higher on measures of both physical and mental health.

2.  Being Thankful Connects You With Other People. Research from 2010 found that gratitude is also important in committed relationships like marriage; 65 couples were studied and researchers discovered that those who were most committed and satisfied corresponded with couples who expressed gratitude with one another.

I recently put myself out and volunteered to manage our small church’s monthly potluck meal after our Sunday service. Since we meet in a school gymnasium, for the most part, everything has to be hauled in, set up, arranged, carted, then pulled apart, stacked and stored and carried back to the car, unloaded, stored in basement shelves and in attic corners. Frankly, this is a lot of work—most of the time taken for granted because often the same people do this work—week after week.

However, I was amazed that so many young adults (our church is mostly young adults) thanked me for doing the potluck. There were at least eight people who made a point of thanking me for organizing this event. I was surprised! But I am on the list again for this month. It is amazing what a word of appreciation (spoken eight times!) will do as far as my feelings of serving Christ’s Body.

3.  Being Thankful Can Change Your Attitude on Life. I am basically a positive person, see the opportunities in life around me, given a chance can be a catalyst for positive change in an organization, see the glass as always half-full, am rarely discouraged, and I identify the hand of God somewhere, no matter what has happened. I am healthy and happy.

But I have not always been this way. As a young woman in my 20s, I was prone to depression, saw the holes (huge holes) in other people’s personalities, was given to judgment and arrogance about my own abilities, and could easily look on the dark side. Then for some reason, certainly the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I set six months aside to write nothing but thanks in my prayer journal. No requests, no lists of concerns. Just thanks. For six months. The impact was overwhelmingly life-changing. I have kept a daily record of my thanks ever since—for over four decades.

“Life and death are in the power of the tongue…”

I have concluded that it is more than ill of us not to be practicing thanksgiving; it is evil, a sin of neglect. And we are suffering from this lack. Some of us, in this season of thanksgiving, need to be asking for forgiveness from our Heavenly Father who has given us all good gifts.

If you can start the fundamental “Appreciation Audit” (3-5 minutes a day, three times a day), you may want to listen to the hymn from the musical Godspell. (Go to YouTube and find Godspell: The New Broadway Musical.)

    We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land…
    But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand…
    He sends us snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain…
    The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain…

    All good gifts around us
    Are sent from Heaven above
    So thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for all his love…

Be happy. Be healthy. Give thanks.

Count Your Blessings
Welcome Basket by Our Front Door
Sign Reads: "Count Your Blessings"


Karen Mains

NOTES From KAREN

Report on Nigeria

David called from Amsterdam about 1:05 this morning (Nov. 20) to report that his trip to Nigeria has been hugely successful, that God had brought unusual opportunities to the filming crew, that everything had gone better than they expected and that he was missing me and would be glad to return home. “I think we will have a powerful finished video.”

By the time this is published on the Internet, he should be safely home, sleeping off jetlag and looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with his gathered family.

Video and film shoots are most often exhausting, hard work, and when done in the field (not to speak of another country), fraught with high tension, frustration. This situation demands endurance, the exercise of patience and the controlling of stress. I count a successful and smooth shoot as the answer to so many prayers, and I thank you for taking the time to hold in your hearts my husband and his film team and our African brothers and sisters involved in this project.

Karen's Blogs for Next Week

Link is http://blog.karenmains.com/blog/thoughts-by-karen-mains. Titles for next week are: “Prayers That Make an Extraordinary Difference,” “Praying Scripture,” “Hours of Prayer,” “Fasting and Prayer” and “Prayer of Collaboration.”


Reminder!

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Karen Mains

Karen Mains

“I have concluded that it is more than ill of us not to be practicing thanksgiving; it is evil, a sin of neglect. And we are suffering from this lack. Some of us, in this season of thanksgiving, need to be asking for forgiveness from our Heavenly Father who has given us all good gifts.”
BOOK CORNER

Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer

Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer:
An Approach to Life in Fullness
by Brother David Steindl-Rast

I’m amazed that I don’t have this book already on my spiritual-life bookshelf. I’ve loved all the books I’ve read by David Steindl-Rast, a noted Benedictine monk. Every year at Advent, I re-read Music of Silence, which reminds me of the kind of spiritual rhythm I want to establish and since the season of Advent is the beginning of the church calendar year, this seems like a perfect beginning, although not a new one.

Since Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer fits perfectly with this theme of thanksgiving, I’ve ordered it from Amazon.com and have no qualms of recommending the book to you (even unread but soon not to be) by me.

Buy From Amazon.com



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