If you only had the things today, that you paused to be grateful for yesterday, what would you have?
Would you have food? Or a car? Or even the clothes on your back?
Thank goodness this question is merely hypothetical. Otherwise, I’d be hungry, on foot and well . . . in the buff.
What about you?
Being grateful is struggle for most us. Here’s why: gratitude is not our natural bent. No, it’s something we must decide to do every day. Something we must choose to cultivate.
Now if you’re from the South, I bet your Mama taught you to say please and thank you, like mine did. (Possibly, the kids up north missed out on such lessons 🙂 but we sure didn’t).
But situational gratitude isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a grateful way of life. About choosing grateful thoughts, words and actions, even on tough days.
The Bible tells us to be grateful because being ungrateful robs you of joy, hope and power. It keeps you focused on what you don’t have, instead of enjoying what you do have. Ingratitude keeps you dissatisfied and grabbing for more. It produces negative, hopeless feelings.
I know about this first-hand.
When I was in college, I broke up with the guy I planned to marry. (Read about it here) While that was a really good decision, the next decision I made was really bad: I chose ingratitude (a.k.a. griping, complaining and moping around for months on end).
All I could think about was what I didn’t have, and what I’d lost, and how hard my life was compared to everyone else’s.
So, I got down, really down. Like, depressed. Then I even started blaming God for letting me get hurt and thinking that He must not care.
See, I didn’t even realize it then, but I was making a choice.
You know, pain is the gift nobody wants. But sometimes, it’s necessary. Even though breaking up really hurt, I wouldn’t change it now. God used this crisis to grow me up, so when the right guy did come along, I was ready. This was my first date with my husband, 34 years ago.
God was working to bless me, I just chose not to see it.
That’s really the point of this post: I don’t want you to lose sight of gratitude like I did. I want you to choose it. To grow in it. To cultivate a heart full of appreciation and joy. To let gratitude be your strength.
So here are 3 reasons why you should be grateful, even when you don’t feel like it:
1. Gratitude blesses YOU.
Gratitude is good for your body. A number of studies show that grateful people have better immune function, gastro function, heart health and sleep. In a nutshell, gratitude is good medicine.
But being grateful is also good for your soul. Here’s why: gratitude is the essential ingredient of happiness.
Think of it this way: if happiness were a chocolate cake, gratitude would be the chocolate (and perhaps the sugar).
Cicero put it a bit more eloquently than me. He wrote, “Gratitude is the parent of all other virtues.” So if you want to be happy, then you must first choose to be grateful. The Bible commands gratitude in all circumstances—the good, the bad and the ugly (1 Thess. 5:17)—because it’s good for your soul.
And while gratitude produces joy, it also prevents negative emotions. Psychologists tell us we can’t host conflicting emotions at the same time. Your brain will choose one emotion or the other, but not both. So then, if you choose to be grateful, it will naturally block feelings of envy, bitterness, and complaining. (Wish I’d known that earlier in life)
So let’s brainstorm for a minute about what you have to be grateful for:
• Your body: you may have too many freckles or too little hair, but your body is something to be grateful for. Although it’s imperfect, it is remarkable. For instance, your brain can hold 5 times as much data as Encyclopedia Britannica. Your nerves fire at 170 m.p.h. all day long. And even though your immune system is assaulted by millions of germs daily, it defeats over 99.5% of them.
• Your prosperity: obviously, if you’re reading this post, you own a computer or smartphone. That’s a privilege over half of the people on this planet do not have. Do you have a car? If you lived in Bangladesh, you probably wouldn’t (only 2% own cars). Did you eat today? At least 10% of the world, as in 750 million people, won’t get to eat today. So compared to most people, you’re doing a-okay.
• Your freedom: in 2019, religious persecution was reported in at least 168 countries. But you have the freedom to worship at the church of your choice. You can vote in every election. You can own property. You can speak your mind. You are FREE, but not everyone else is. Be grateful.
2. Gratitude blesses your relationship with OTHERS.
Psychologists say that gratitude generates pro-social behavior. In other words, just pausing to be grateful every day makes you easier to be around. It makes you kinder, gentler and more understanding. Therefore, it affects every relationship you have.
But gratitude affects more than just you. When you express thanks or give a sincere compliment, it makes others feel valued.
So let’s brainstorm a bit about what you have to be grateful for with others:
• Family & friends. Each person God placed in your life is a gift, if you choose to see that way. Sure, loved ones can be hurtful or disappointing sometimes, but you need them. Family and friends provide needed stability and strength.
• Mentors & teachers. You didn’t get where you are today on your own. No, someone cared for you and taught you and helped you. Simply taking the time to recognize those who have contributed to your life will bless you and it will bless your relationships with others.
3. Gratitude blesses your relationship with GOD.
Choosing gratitude keeps you focused on Lord’s goodness and blessings—instead of your circumstances. And this lifts you up and draws you closer to His heart. David encourages us to be thankful for our spiritual blessings. He said: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever.” (Ps. 107:1)
So, let’s brainstorm again about the blessings of believing in Christ. Ephesians 1 & 2 list a truckload of spiritual blessings. It says you are:
• Chosen by God (Eph. 1:4)
• Adopted into God’s royal family (Eph. 1:5, 19)
• Free forever (Eph. 1:7)
• Indwelt by His Spirit (Eph. 1:14)
• God’s heir (Eph. 1:18)
• Given great power (Eph. 1:19)
• Guaranteed eternal life (Eph. 2:4-5, 12-14)
• A citizen of heaven (Eph. 2:6, 19)
• God’s masterpiece (Eph. 2:10, NLT)
Wow. Just, wow! No matter what happens, no matter what mistakes you make, no matter what you’re suffering through right now, if you belong to Christ, you have the greatest hope there is.
Each new day provides multiple opportunities to be grateful. Choose gratitude. Grow in it. Live grateful—you’ll be happy you did.