God’s plan for our lives includes developing a spirit of continual gratitude. Paul wrote, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thess. 5:18). When we focus on being thankful, it will improve the way we cope with our past, our present, and give us incentive for the future. So it is useful to be familiar with techniques for becoming more appreciative when we may not necessarily be in that mood at the moment. Here are three ways we can become more grateful:
First, write it down. We sing about “Count Your Blessings,” and that’s a great idea. When we begin to think of specific good things in our life, it changes the way we feel.
Scripture teaches we should be living intentionally, not taking any moment or blessing for granted. The psalmist wrote, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Being continually grateful includes thinking of how we are being blessed at every moment. We should be “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).
Take out a sheet of paper and write down something you are thankful for, and continue adding to the list. There is something potent that happens when we actually write it. A study in 2010 by Professor Anne Mangen and neurophysiologist Jean-Luc Velay, reported in the Advances in Haptics Journal, revealed that we process what we write with our hands more powerfully than typing or reading only (Daily Mail, Jan. 21, 2011, “Why the pen is mightier than the keyboard: Children who write by hand ‘learn better than those who type’”).
Second, take it away. Reflect for a moment on “What if I’d never…” or “What if I didn’t have….” When we are keenly aware of what we would have missed or lost without what we have now, we become more appreciative. Paul realized what he would have been without Christ: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (I Cor. 15:10). Jesus reminded us: “without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
A recent report in Psychology Today reiterated this technique. Dr. Ryan Niemiec explained in “New Happiness Strategy: Mentally subtract the positive from your life” (publ. Oct. 30, 2013) that when we think about what our life would be without a supportive friend, education, health, our home, safety, any positive event or achievement, that we experience an “enhanced sense of appreciation.” This method helped George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life and it can help us, too.
Third, work it out. If you can find something to do, especially something that will help someone, it will immediately trigger the capacity to feel connected and grateful. In his New York Times article “A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day,” John Tierney pointed out that when we realize how we’ve been helped, it compels us to help others. Paul advised, “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men” (Titus 3:8).
More about how to “Always… Be Thankful” can be found in our video on YouTube.