When I think about my top emotions throughout the past year, “gratitude” and “thankful” don’t immediately come to mind. Despite learning four ways to be grateful when life sucks, it’s so easy to be distracted and focus on negative situations and feelings.
But here we are in the Thanksgiving season again, and I think it’s time to revisit that list and find new ways to incorporate a practice of gratitude into my life so this posture of thankfulness isn’t something I’m trying to do, but something that becomes second nature.
Four ways to reframe our circumstances to be more thankful
Count your blessings
The suggestion of keeping a gratitude journal comes up whenever I’m wondering how to be a happier, more loving, kinder person and yet I still struggle to develop the practice. Really, it comes down to getting into and maintaining the habit. It doesn’t need to be a big production. So here’s what I’m committing to do: get a notebook and place it by my bed. Every day before going to sleep I’m going to jot down a few small things from my day that meant something, even if it’s as simple as the few extra quiet minutes I had to pray and meditate or the bird I had the opportunity to observe on my walk. Whatever has come up in the day that gave me even the tiniest spark of positive feelings, I’m going to write it down. Yes, I may have to give up late-night doomscrolling in order to write down things I’m thankful for but it feels like a healthy tradeoff.
There is so much drudgery in the day to day and I’m realizing more and more the importance of making an effort to capture joy and be more thankful. It’s so easy to trudge through the day completely focused on just getting through it. But what if my goal becomes creating memories and pleasant moments within this mundane sameness? Yes, it will take energy, the energy I’m not sure I have, but I think I need to try. Perhaps it means setting the table and lighting some candles with dinner. That feels doable. Or maybe it means I surprise a friend with a gift or a letter. That would be a nice thing to do. Maybe I won’t have many ideas at first, but I think if I get into the habit of looking for ways to create special moments, it will get easier.
Let go of grudges
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.Ephesians 4:31-32
Every time I read Ephesians 4:31-32 I’m reminded again of just how toxic it is to keep feelings of anger and negativity inside my mind and heart. These emotions make me feel so powerful, especially when I’ve been wronged! And yet, I’m pretty sure it hurts me more than anyone else. Not forgiving those who have hurt me holds me back from being that person of gratitude I would much rather be. Yes, sometimes relationships cannot be restored, but it doesn’t mean I need to nurse a grudge. I want to let God take my emotional baggage (and not take it back) so I can focus on more important things.
If I’ve learned anything from this pandemic it’s that I’m not in control of much, if anything. Life can change in an instant and this perceived comfort I have is just that, perceived. But instead of spiralling into panic and despair, I’ve found a much better solution: trust God to take care of me. He says He will, and as a Christian, I say I believe this. So now I need to act like it. This year has been chaotic and unpredictable but when it comes down to it, my needs are met. As a person who loves planning and structure, not knowing what will happen next is challenging for sure and yet that is what we’re called to do. If I can look at my hopes for the future with an open mind, trusting God to lead and guide me every step of the way, it will be easier to be grateful because I will not be held back by fear. I don’t know how to get to this place on my own so it’s a good thing God will help me with that, too.
How daily devotions help me be more grateful
Creating a practice of daily prayer and Bible reading is a fabulous way to cultivate gratitude. I’m convinced of it. When I spend intentional time with God I get to know Him better, I gain a deeper understanding of the Bible, my spiritual life is enhanced and I’m reminded of the big picture. In fact, this important time reminds me of what really matters and helps me stay on track. It seems like such a small thing, reading the Bible or a devotional for a few minutes and pondering that for a bit. That’s really small. And yet, it has a remarkable impact on my mind, my posture and my attitude. The times where I’ve struggled the most to be thankful or to even keep God in focus, are the same times where I’ve dropped the habit of daily devotions and now that I see the link I can’t unsee it.
If you’re wondering how to cultivate a grateful heart, I hope something from this list sparks a new idea for you. Small changes lead to big results if they’re the right ones.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.Galatians 6:9