Echoes of the Heart: Be thankful, it's good for you

Religious By Dr. Jeffrey Frantz Wednesday, November 13, 2013

(Contact Dr. Frantz on the web at

Be thankful! It's good for you. In this season of thanksgiving, there's good news for people who have a grateful spirit: It's good for you and it makes you a happier person. If we reflect on this, we might think it would be other things – like fear, for example, out of a deep respect for the Almighty; or obedience, out of a sense of duty and a willingness to do the right thing. Or, some might think it would be guilt, from an awareness of how much we fall short of God's glory.

Yet, according to Barth, all of these pale in comparison to gratitude and the warming of the heart such gratitude brings. C.S. Lewis, the Irish-born novelist and poet, came to his Christian faith a little later than most (in his early thirties); but over time, he was quick to point out how thankful people seem the most happy and contented persons.

If we think about this, there is a certain logic to it. Being thankful asks something of us. If gratitude (according to the sage Barth) is the most appropriate way we are to respond to God; and if, indeed, such a responding is built in to the nature of the divine/human relationships, it would follow that being thankful would be good for the human spirit and, therein, make us more happy and content.

Of course, to be truly grateful asks something of us. To begin with, it asks us how to slow down enough to reflect on our lives. It asks us to take time for self-reflection and assessment. It asks us to have perspective on our lives; in other words, to get outside ourselves enough to take measure of our daily choices in relation to the big picture  priorities we want our lives to reflect. The bigger lesson here is the matter of knowing what is important in life and to have a vivd sense of our larger values and commitments.

The big picture healing that gratitude brings. The life-story of Standard Oil business tycoon John D. Rockefeller is revealing in our discussion on the merits of a grateful heart.Born in 1839, Rockefeller was a man who knew how to set goals and follow through on them. In his late 20's, he became a millionaire; by the age of 50, he became a billionaire (an amazing feat in the late 19th century).

Although a God-fearing Baptist his whole life, Rockefeller's primary focus had always been on creating and extending his personal wealth. However, three years later at the age of 53, Rockefeller became seriously ill. His entire body became racked with pain, he lost all his body hair, was in total agony, and was only able to digest milk and crackers.

In assessing his condition, his highly-skilled doctors all predicted he would die within a year. As the months began to pass, agonizingly, and slowly, Rockefeller awoke one morning to the fresh memory of a recurring dream – how he would not be able to take any of his immense wealth with him into the next life. The man who wielded such tremendous financial power in the world was suddenly humbled to a poignant awareness of how vulnerable and powerless he had become.

So, he called in all of his attorneys, accountants, and managers and announced that he wanted to start channeling his assets to hospitals, medical research, and mission projects. Impressively, this new direction eventually led to the discovery of penicillin and to cures for strains of malaria, tuberculosis and diphtheria. As the years marched on, the list of new discoveries in medicine and successful mission projects grew and grew.

However, the most amazing part of Rockefeller's story is that the moment he began to give back a portion of all he had earned, his body's chemistry was somehow so significantly altered that he got better. And he went on to live an increasingly fulfilling and satisfying life, dying a couple months shy of his 98th birthday.

In reflecting on this, having a grateful spirit would, indeed, seem to be very good for us. It would probably reduce our stress, and therein, fortify our immune system. Therefore, with Thanksgiving only a few blinks away, let us be truly thankful for the life the spirit gives; and let us make daily, life-decisions that express our gratitude!