Do you think of gratitude as a feeling? In other words, if you feel grateful, you are grateful.
If so, I’d like to challenge that. True gratitude involves expressing thanks, out loud, to whomever you are grateful for. Of course you need to think it first. You need to realize that you owe a debt of gratitude. But then you need to take the next step and say the words, rather than assuming that the other person can read your thoughts.
In other words, you must be intentional in your gratitude. You must make time for it. As crazy as it sounds, we live incredibly busy lives, and we often forget to say thank you, even though it only takes seconds to do so. We want all the good things and we want the blessings, but we don’t want to take the time to say thank you when we get them.
Part of the problem is that when things are going well for us, we tend to take credit for our blessings. We pat ourselves on the back for the hard work we’ve done or the wise decisions we’ve made, and while all of that might be true, we forget about God and the part He played in our good fortune. What’s even worse is when we take credit for what goes well and blame Him for what goes awry.
Saying thank you, therefore, must be intentional. One way to get into the habit is to commit to saying thank you to the people in our lives: our spouse, our parents, our kids, our friends, and our co-workers. The more we say thank you, the more natural it becomes. When we say thank you, the rewards are oftentimes immediate. People need validation, and when they get it, they are grateful in return. It means something to have your efforts acknowledged, and we all need that in our lives. Gratitude strengthens relationships and actually encourages others to continue to give. Think about it: the more you thank your spouse for all the small things he does for you, the more he wants to do those small things.
Now think about the gratitude you show God. How often do you take the time to thank Him? It’s extremely easy to become self-absorbed when we don’t reflect on God and His blessings in our lives. Psalms tells us, repeatedly, that God’s love endures forever, so even when we don’t feel His presence in our lives, even when we feel He has abandoned us, even when we struggle to find something to be grateful for, His love endures forever. He is always there, loving us.
Bitterness comes from feeling as if you are a victim. It comes from feeling you are entitled to something and not receiving it. But if you take the time to step back from what you feel you are entitled to and reflect instead on what is good in your life, your perspective will change. Your problems won’t – they will still be there and they won’t miraculously disappear. But your perspective can be one of gratitude despite your problems, and that is always better than bitterness, which can lead to anger, addiction, destroyed relationships, and depression.
Even people who appear to have nothing can be grateful. I recently noticed a homeless man who had nothing but one bag of personal belongings. Next to him was his dog, wrapped in a blanket and looking for all the world like a contented, spoiled pup. That man was grateful for his dog. I’m guessing that despite not having food, he found a way to feed his dog. I’m guessing that despite not having a bed, he curled up at night with his constant companion. He had nothing save that dog, and I’m confident he is grateful, every day, for his furry friend.
Commit today to make gratitude part of your daily life. Reflect on it and verbally put it out there, thanking everyone who adds to your life or contributes something positive. Then thank God for putting those people in your life and for His love, which endures forever.