Five Reasons to Do Gratitude Daily

by Brian Grasso

Author of this post - Five Reasons to Do Gratitude Daily

Duke University Class of 2019 | Economics & Global Health Major | Simple Charity Executive Director

What Theology, Neuroscience, & Aristotle Can Teach Us About Thanksgiving

Five Reasons to Do Gratitude Daily

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I decided to write a reflection on one of Simple Charity’s five “liturgies of solidarity”: Gratitude. I believe that a daily gratitude journal is an incredibly powerful practice, and I have seen the fruit of the practice since I started doing it this past summer. Here are five reasons to “do” gratitude daily.

1. We are blessed daily.

Pay attention to this verse from, of all places, Lamentations: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” (3:22-23). God's mercies are new to us every single morning. If gratitude is the proper response of a healthy soul to a generous gift, we ought to thank God for His mercies every day.

God proved His love for us by giving Jesus as a propitiation for our sins while we were sinners (Romans 5:8). For a heart that knows this Gospel, the daily practice of gratitude is not forced; it’s proper. Thanksgiving aligns our hearts with the truth of who we are, what we deserve, and what we receive from our good and gracious King.

In what specific ways are we blessed daily? I find that three categories of gifts have daily relevance and are far more divine than we typically acknowledge. The first category of gifts is the people we see every day, all of whom are stamped with the image of the eternally transcendent God. The second is God’s created world. We walk past exquisite art in our daily transit. Every leaf, every branch, and every sunset gleam of light that sneaks in between is known, designed, and beautiful on purpose. The third category of gifts is the food we eat: grown on fields far away, seeds watered and sunlit by God Himself (Matthew 5:45), the fruit picked, packaged, and prepared by people, and set before us as our daily bread. We take for granted the human and divine care that goes into each bite of buttered toast.

People, creation, & food. Daily thanksgiving is the proper response to these daily blessings.

2. Gratitude improves our physical, mental, and social health.

Multiple studies suggest that gratitude makes you healthier. Henning et al (2017) write,

“Gratitude correlates with subjective wellbeing and improvements in physiological health. Specifically, gratitude is associated with increased life satisfaction, resiliency to health issues, and better sleep quality, in addition to lower levels of burnout, and reductions in stress, inflammation, and depression.”

A set of studies reached conclusions (admittedly somewhat varying in robustness) highlighting each of these specific health benefits of gratitude. You can check out Henning et al.’s references if you want to dig into the literature.

To me, the role of gratitude in improving our social health is especially significant. The research seems to be robust that gratitude helps us feel included in social circles and close to our loved ones. Another study experimentally concludes that grateful people are more motivated towards behaviors that build their relationships with friends and family.

Personally, I believe that poor social health is upstream of a lot of the mental and physical health problems we are facing as a nation. My favorite paper that I read as a global health major at Duke was on “Social Relationships and Health”. I read it at a time that I was undoubtedly unhealthy because of a lack of meaningful social relationships. The paper affirmed my theory that I flourish when I have close friends nearby. If gratitude is good for our social health, that is a really big deal. It may be a low-hanging fruit with all-natural medicinal qualities for many of our health woes in a lonely age characterized by rising rates of non-communicable diseases, suicide, depression, and complex mental health challenges.

3. Gratitude is commanded in Scripture at all times.

I pulled up an online version of the ESV Bible and searched “give thanks”. In the Psalms, there are references to giving thanks to God 36 times. This isn’t to mention all of the times that the idea is present without the specific words “give thanks”. Paul gives thanks or invites us to give thanks 12 times in his letters. Some of Paul’s references to thanksgiving are universalizing, like these ones:

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly” (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

“Be filled with the Spirit…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-20).

Here’s what’s going on in these verses: God gives grace constantly, and for each instance of God’s grace, the proper response is thanks. It’s a picture of divine reciprocity, the generosity of God raining down upon His people and the generosity of His people responding in thanks and praise. This is a virtuous circle of joy, grace, and glory.

4. Gratitude changes our brain chemistry to make us more virtuous.

Gratitude is the path to the virtue of charity. Aristotle writes in Nicomachean Ethics that a virtue is not merely determined on the basis of the action performed but also on the pleasure or pain associated with that action. In other words, no matter how much we give to charity, if we are not “cheerful givers” (2 Corinthians 9:7), we are not yet virtuous. It doesn’t count as a virtue if it always feels like duty. But how could we possibly give cheerfully if giving to charity is naturally unpleasant to us? Should we give at all if giving feels dutiful? This is an important question. The standard to give cheerfully can feel like an unfair standard.

It turns out that gratitude is the missing link.

In their 2017 study “The Cultivation of Pure Altruism via Gratitude: A Functional MRI Study of Change with Gratitude Practice”, Karns et al make a significant contribution to the neuroscience of gratitude. The researchers examined brain activity while participants watched a computer either move money into their account or give it to a local food bank. Their independent variable was whether or not the participants had kept a gratitude journal for three weeks prior. They found that people who had kept a gratitude journal experienced more delight (as measured in neurotransmitters) at the prospect of giving to charity.

I originally saw the following quote in the Thanksgiving email newsletter from Vox's Future Perfect. Here’s what Karns said in an interview about her study:

"It turns out that the neural connection between gratitude and giving is very deep, both literally and figuratively. A region deep in the frontal lobe of the brain, called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, is key to supporting both... Practicing gratitude shifted the value of giving in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex… Giving to charity became more valuable than receiving money yourself."

When we don’t feel like giving, the answer is the addition of gratitude, not the subtraction of generosity. Thanksgiving is the seed, and generosity is the fruit. This is why truly understanding the Gospel makes us generous! If you know that you are saved by grace and grace alone, true thanksgiving will fill your heart and overflow in generosity to everyone around you. We are spiritually rich because God gave us the costliest of gifts while we were the undeserving poor (Romans 5:8).

Gratitude rewires our brains enabling us to be cheerful givers. When we don’t feel like giving, we must, in that moment, move our eyes to God’s downpouring grace on our lives.

5. Gratitude is stabilizing in life’s storms.

My sophomore year of college was one of the hardest times in my life. I was enveloped in a season of spiritual darkness. Gratitude pulled me out of my funk. While talking to my sister on the phone, she said to me, “Brian you’re always sad. You need to read a book on gratitude called One Thousand Gifts.” Thinking back on this conversation, I thank God for her candor! I bought the Ann Voskamp bestseller and devoured it. To this day, it is the most embarrassing fact of my spiritual journey that a book clearly written for an audience of mothers in their mid-forties with 2.5 kids profoundly reshaped my theology, habits, and well-being.

One big insight in Ann’s book is that gratitude is not an attitude, but a discipline. Gratitude is something we do. The book is wholly practical. Here’s the premise: She lists out gifts with paper and pen, and it changes everything. Gratitude is something we do with our words – written or spoken – and it is entirely in our power to do it, even in fierce storms. Consider this quotidian scene in Acts 27:35,

“And when Paul had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.”

Out of context, this is the most normal verse in the Bible. In context, Paul is with 275 other people in the Mediterranean Sea on a ship that is literally being thrashed in a fierce storm. Six verses later, the ship is breaking into pieces, the guards are ready to kill all the prisoners on board (including Paul), and people who have never swam a day in their lives are clinging to broken planks and kicking towards the shoreline. Paul practiced gratitude in the middle of the storm, in the middle of the story. This is a lesson for all of us who feel mid-story this holiday season.

God, in His grace, brought everyone safely to the shore, giving them a reason for thanks and praise yet again. Constant grace births perpetual gratitude. Before the storm, during the storm, and after the storm, there is grace for us all through.

Each of the Five Reasons is Sufficient

I consider each of these five reasons to practice daily gratitude sufficient arguments to begin cultivating the practice of gratitude today. So why not? How long does it take to list three gifts in a gratitude journal at the end of each day? Here are the five reasons again:

1. We are blessed daily.

2. Gratitude improves our physical, mental, and social health.

3. Gratitude is commanded in Scripture at all times.

4. Gratitude changes our brain chemistry to make us more virtuous.

5. Gratitude is stabilizing in life’s storms.

If you end up starting to practice daily gratitude in a journal for the first time after reading this, it would be a great encouragement to me if you let me know, even if we’ve never met before. I’d love to hear your story. You could shoot me an email at brian@simplecharity.org. I pray that gratitude helps you to live in the bright light of God’s abundant grace for us.





Simple Charity is a start-up that helps Christians learn the virtues of solidarity with the poor.

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