Then our mouths were filled with laughter;
our tongues sang for joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD had done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
Oh, how happy we [a]re!
St. Paul counsels us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
Always be joyful.
Always keep on praying.
No matter what happens, always be thankful,
for this is God’s will for you
who belong to Christ Jesus.
The dictionary defines “joy” as “a state of happiness or felicity.”
Joy is different from happiness in that happiness is a fleeting emotion, but joy is a”state” — the condition of a person — of happiness. As someone once said, “Joy is not a season, it’s a way of living.”
Joy consists of at least two components: gratitude and optimism.
While it is sadly true that the political, economic, social and cultural circumstances in America are worsening by the day, we still have much to be grateful for.
Being grateful actually benefits us in at least seven scientifically-proven ways:
(1) Gratitude is good for our physical health:
Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health — they exercise more often and are more likely to get regular check-ups.
(2) Gratitude is good for our psychological health:
Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, found that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.
(3) Gratitude reduces stress and makes us more resilient:
For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma by making us more resilient:
- A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – also fosters resilience, enabling you to better withstand trauma and stress. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the 9/11 attacks.
(4) Grateful people sleep better:
Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed helps you sleep better and longer.
(5) Gratitude opens the door to friendship
Showing appreciation to other people can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship.
(6) Gratitude improves self-esteem:
- A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, which is an essential component to optimal performance.
- Other studies have shown that gratitude makes us better able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments, and reduces the toxic social comparisons that makes us resentful toward people who seem to have more — money, beauty, better jobs, better health, more friends — than we have.
(7) Gratitude is good for society by enhancing empathy and reducing aggression:
Grateful people are more likely to behave in a pro-social manner according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were sensitive and empathic toward other people; less vengeful; and less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback.
The dictionary defines “optimism” as “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome” and “the belief that good ultimately predominates over evil in the world.”
Like gratitude, there is ample scientific evidence that optimism is good for our health in myriad ways (source: Harvard Medical School):
- Heart: Pessimists are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease than optimists, even after taking other risk factors into account. Among those who had undergone cardiac surgery, pessimists were three times more likely than optimists to have heart attacks or require repeat angioplasties or bypass operations.
- Blood pressure: Optimists have lower blood pressures than pessimists. On average, the people with the most positive emotions have the lowest blood pressures. Pessimists are three times more likely to develop hypertension than optimists, even after other risk factors are taken into account.
- Viral infections: Optimists are less likely to develop viral symptoms than pessimists.
- Overall health: Over a 30-year period, optimism was linked to a better outcome on eight measures of physical and mental function and health.
- Longevity: Since healthy people live longer than sick people, and since optimism improves health, it should also boost longevity — and according to two studies from the U.S. and two from the Netherlands, it does.
All of which goes to show that God, being a loving God, His injunction to us to be joyful is for our own good!
And may the joy, peace and love of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you!