Whenever I used to thank my Grandpa Joe, he’d reply, “Don’t thank Grandpa!” Then I’d say, “well, thank you anyway,” and we’d both laugh. Here’s what I think he meant: “It’s my pleasure to be able to do something for my grandson—don’t bother with the ‘thanks.’”
The commentator Rabbi Eliezer Davidovits (1878-1942), my cousin of blessed memory, makes a similar point in his interpretation of Psalm 107:8 where we read:
“Let them praise the ETERNAL on account of God’s love; for God’s wondrous deeds for humanity!”
The question Rabbi Davidovits asks is why would God need our words of thanks at all? While we might wish to be thanked for the kindnesses we show others, God is beyond all words of thanksgiving or praise. God doesn’t need our words or our thanks, so why bother? It’s a question that invites us to reflect on the very purpose of prayer itself. For whom are all of our words of thanksgiving, praise, and supplication—for God or ourselves?
It’s for humanity’s own good, that we are instructed to be more grateful people.
Rabbi Davidovits teaches that the purpose of offering words of thanksgiving is for our own spiritual growth. He draws this conclusion by focusing on the last words of the verse from the Psalm: “for humanity.” It’s a clever word-play that suggests we should read the verse as follows: “They should praise the ETERNAL for God’s love and wondrous deeds for their own sake.” It’s for humanity’s own good, that we are instructed to be more grateful people.
Research from the field of positive psychology suggests that this is the case. Study after study demonstrate an association between gratitude and an individual’s sense of well-being. A Harvard study notes that “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
The study goes on to suggest a variety of different ways that we can cultivate gratitude in our lives, including keeping a gratitude journal, making the writing of thank you notes (and yes emails and texts) a regular part of our practice, and of course through prayer.
God might not need our words of praise and thanksgiving but we should offer them anyway—for our own selves and our own good. It will help us to be more grateful, happier people who experience a deeper sense of wholeness, well-being, and shalom—even more reasons to give thanks.