Bonhoeffer

How Thanksgiving and Happiness are Linked

How Thanksgiving and Happiness are Linked

The results are in! Gratitude wins the day by a landslide. In fact, as a result of this monumental victory, psychology departments are developing entirely new areas of study on the little known fact of gratitude. According to Robert Emmons, author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, “Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.” a There are measurable benefits. Did you hear that?

Linked to this discovery is the helpful suggestion made by Michael Hyatt that keeping a gratitude journal can be immensely beneficial as we build an arsenal of gratitude pages. Ending the day by listing the reasons for thanksgiving, however small, can actually serve as a rich spiritual exercise.

Of course, we are aware that psychological journals are behind the times. Gratitude has always been a Christian virtue. St. Paul had already broken the news. Later, in the 20th century, Bonhoeffer alluded to this in his remarkable little book Life Together. There, he takes us back to the glories of gratitude in community life. For Bonhoeffer, if you don’t know where to start in the gratitude journey, start with thanking God for your community. He writes:

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

The Christian faith is a food religion. The heart of it is found in the death/resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. He became for the world the bread of life. This bread then becomes the food for hungry souls to feed. In the Christian tradition, it is articulated most clearly in the table of the Lord. The table is a table of joy and gratitude; so much gratitude that it is usually referred to as the Eucharistisc Table. The word eucharistia means “thanksgiving.” Emmons says that “when we feel grateful, we are moved to share the goodness we have received with others.” b It is this sharing of food that forms this table of thanksgiving.

Gratitude builds us in love and compels us share in the shalom of God with others. To whom much is given much is required. To those of us who partake of God’s goodness often and daily, we are called then to compel others with our own lives and words to share in this community of gratitude formed by the God who gave us His own life.

  1. Thanks! page 2  (back)
  2. Ibid. 4  (back)

On the Death of Bonhoeffer

The doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s execution described it this way:

Early the next morning, April 9, Bonhoeffer, Wilhelm Canaris, Hans Oster, and four fellow conspirators were hanged at the extermination camp of Flossenbürg. The camp doctor, who had to witness the executions, remarked that he watched Bonhoeffer kneel and pray before being led to the gallows. “I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer,” he wrote. “At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. . . . In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”