The Science of Giving Thanks to God

A growing body of research backs the benefits of divine gratefulness, in good times and bad.

For many, 2022 has been a difficult year, and the perception of blessings are hard to come by. Once again, we find ourselves in the seeming contradiction of believing in an unconditionally loving, all-powerful God and experiencing the reality of the global crises facing humanity.

How might gratitude—and gratitude to God specifically—be vital for flourishing and resilience in today’s world? Amid pandemics, climate change, addiction, political extremism and polarization, financial collapse, crime, inequality, international conflicts, nuclear threat, and forced migration, is there a healing power in gratitude to God?

For a while, people relied on personal testimonies and scriptural admonitions to “give thanks” to answer these kinds of questions. Scientifically, research had little to say about being grateful to God since gratitude had largely been studied on a horizontal, human-to-human level. New projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation have theologians, philosophers, and psychologists like us exploring gratitude to our supreme benefactor.

Already, these researchers have discovered that believers who experience and express gratitude to God report feeling more hope, higher satisfaction, more optimism, fewer depression episodes, and greater stress recovery. Their studies suggest that gratitude to God magnifies and amplifies the effects of gratitude toward other people.

Grateful believers aren’t just happier because they’re better off, either. We see people experiencing gratitude to God in the midst of adversity.

Jason McMartin, a theologian at Biola University, in a paper not yet published, contends that suffering intensifies our encounters with God, reframing the experience of gratitude …

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