5 Ways to Grow Your Gratitude
by Jeremy Walter
Take thirty seconds, right this moment, and look around you. What do you see with your eyes, process with your mind, and evaluate in your heart? Seriously, if you haven’t done so, stop reading for thirty seconds.
As I write this on a snowy Tuesday morning, I see the following: snowflakes falling outside, a steaming cup of hot coffee, a parking lot that my car is parked in, an office with heat, a pen and notebook, a laptop computer, and a cellphone.
My eyes provided sensory input, which my brain automatically converted into meaning, and I now have a conscious choice of how my heart can evaluate the results. For most adults, these first two steps happen without any conscious effort on our part. The third step, what we choose to do with the results, is the soil where our attitude begins to take root. In fact, this third step should even be thankful that those first two items happened in the first place!
Most of the time, I’ll process my above list of things without thinking too much about it. But, as I’m doing right now, when I do take time to think about it, it’s pretty remarkable how much I have to be grateful for. Snow (at least amounts under two feet) is beautiful. Having a reliable car for transportation is a luxury most of the world doesn’t have. The snow outside can be seen as a beautiful scene and not a life-threatening event because I have an office that has functioning heating controls. I was taught to read and write, which has enabled me to learn and communicate in this world. One laptop has access to more information at my fingertips than generations before us could even dream about. My cell phone functions, all at once and at a fraction of the combined cost, as a WalkMan, digital camera, walkie-talkie, voice recorder, AIM instant messenger, alarm clock, scrapbook, phonebook, library, calendar, weather station, calculator, atlas, and television. Oh, it also makes phone calls to any other phone in the world. Effortlessly.
But just as easily, I can see whether that will mess up my schedule, a drink that got cold, a sedan that doesn’t have four-wheel drive, a building that requires keeping clean, a journal of unorganized thoughts, a laptop that doesn’t have the newest features, and a phone that needs charged once a day.
So what? Well, I believe that God cares a lot about our attitudes (maybe even more so than our actual behavior, and certainly more than our possessions). Stewardship means that we’ve been entrusted with temporary possession of someone else’s rightful belongings. And just as God loves a cheerful giver (1 Corinthians 9:7), he also loves a grateful and thankful steward (Psalm 118:24, Colossians 3:17, Ephesians 5:20). In our culture, it’s all too easy to just want the next thing, to look at the next step, to dwell on what we don’t have. Instead, I think God wants us to realize what we do have, and express thanks for those blessings (James 1:17).
Below are 5 ways I’ve found personally beneficial in cultivating the soil of our heart to grow gratitude. (Disclosure: I don’t have this perfected or executed every day. Writing this post is just as rich of a reminder to myself as it is hopefully to you reading it.)
Verbally express one thing each family member is thankful for at mealtime.
We started doing this a few years ago with our kids, currently aged 6, 3, and 1, and it’s been so fun to see what the older two find meaningful. It’s a great builder of perspective for other people, and it sets a good model to our kids that praying isn’t just about asking God for things, it’s also expressing thanks for what he’s given.
Write out one thing you’re grateful for in the morning.
A practice I started a number of years ago is my 3G routine (back when 3G was actually considered a good speed for my previously mentioned cellphone). I write out the Gospel, expressed in one sentence, one opportunity I can Give in some function of my time, talent, or treasure that day, and one specific thing I am Grateful for. Putting gratitude into writing helps make it more concrete, and also, if you keep track of what you’re writing, is a neat exercise to look back upon.
Brainstorm an all-inclusive gratitude list.
A mentor challenged me to do this many years ago as a way of building perspective, and it’s something I’ve heard of many other people doing as well. Give yourself 15 or 20 minutes and just start writing or typing all things in your life that you’re grateful for, large or small. It’s amazing how many things we never give conscious thought to as a blessing in our lives. Bonus feature: sharing your list with a spouse or close friend.
Read the news and express gratitude for positive things happening.
A lot of media is loaded with things that are certainly not things we’d consider worthy of gratitude – in fact, oftentimes they require prayer of intervention more than anything else. However, reading with an eye towards gratitude can bring some things to light that we might have otherwise missed out on. Feeling doubtful on this concept? Challenge yourself then to read the news specifically searching out the good amidst the ugly – the grand openings, the miraculous births, the non-fatal accident, the latest cancer-fighting research.
Ask God for a grateful heart.
Maybe this seems silly to include, but I think it’d actually silly not to include it. God wants to give us good things, and sometimes we just need to ask him for them, including our attitudes (John 16:24). In fact, we can enact all the self-discipline in the world to cultivate better attitudes, but without God’s help, we won’t make much headway (Psalm 127:1).
There are plenty of other ways to grow our gratitude, certainly ones I’m not aware of that may be far better than my list above. Find what works for you, and keep at it. Share your gratitude with those around you, as well. We can honor and worship God by our attitudes, especially our attitudes towards what he has entrusted to us. As parents, there are few things more frustrating than when our kids act entitled to what we’ve given to them as gifts or as provision. As stewards, there’s few things more worshipful than expressing thanks to the Giver of all that we have.