The world headlines have been full of despair, attacks in Paris, Mali, in the air, on the sea, and in cyberspace. After the headlines, the political rhetoric starts. This fatigues me. Even the sports section is not as upbeat. To make matters worse, one of my favorite cartoons, “Henry” is not available. Henry, was at least some sense of normalcy for me. Believe it not, these inputs, including Henry, do change our health. Today, I want us to focus on the importance of being thankful. This is an important input and is a Biblical Prescription for Life.
Thankfulness, gratitude, appreciation, recognition, honor, and even praise are similar words. But, what is a word? A word elicits some type of chemical response in the body. The brain recognizes the word, searches the hippocampus, and the 100 billion neurons with a quad-million (one with 15 zeros) connections go to work. There are neurotransmitters generated, new connections, and interactions all in response to a word. The limbic system may turn on an emotion, and the amygdyla may turn on the stress chemistry pending the word. Fredrickson has described, in the American Psychologist, the complex dynamics and pointed out, the brain has a hard time focusing on negatives when being thankful. There is an on-off switch. Negativity, anti-thankfulness, can also stress the body. Dusek has shown how even the DNA and gene expression are changed by our brains. The epigenetics can be changed by words. I do not want any of my 20,000+ genes to be methylated or my telomeres to be shortened unless there is a good reason.
When a person says thank you and means it, there is a physiologic response that we are just beginning to understand. Through functional MRI’s and the sequencing of the human genome, knowledge of the function of the brain is unprecedented. Being thankful is one of the best prescriptions for life. The text, I Thessalonians 5:18 says
“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Notice the text does not say to be thankful for some things or to be thankful on a holiday or when you “feel” like it. It says to be thankful in all things. This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Being thankful is a complex physiologic condition representing chemical and structural changes. I am sure a thankful factor of 2, looks different than a thankful physiology of 1000.
If we are not thankful, this can be learned. I have noticed that in my patients who learn how to be thankful, the heart rate slows, the blood pressure is decreased, less medications are needed, less heart attacks, and even less pain. A thankful heart is a happy heart with more endorphins. Endorphins are our bodies’ natural painkillers. A Biblical prescription changes the entire body.
As the world moves away from being thankful, at least in the headlines, we need to move, one step at a time, being thankful in all things. There is no better time to start.