I’ve been thinking lately about being more grateful. We throw around that word a lot, but what does gratitude really look like? Simply put, it’s a heartfelt acknowledgement that you are blessed. It’s an intentional and frequent “thank you” to the One who has provided.
Gratitude prevents us from thinking we have what we have because we “should”. A 2014 Reason-Rupe public opinion survey reported that 71 percent of American adults see millennials as selfish, and 64 percent find them entitled.
Is this accurate?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t commonly see gratitude in adults, regardless of their age.
Instead, I frequently see people pointing out what others have and they wish they did. Even in times we are thankful, it’s often just for a moment—for as long as the thing is new. When the excitement wears off, we settle again into boredom, while focusing on what’s missing in our life until that’s all we see again. We are then left with a familiar sense of monotony or even worse, sadness.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with desiring more in our lives. We’re supposed to. God’s word is brimming over with hope about the blessings He wants to provide. But what do we do in the meantime? If we can’t learn to be thankful for what we already have, even the things we get later on won’t end up being enough either.
Gratitude requires an intentional shift of focus to what we have now. It’s an invitation to see your world through refreshed eyes. And it’s God’s desire for us.
Here are 4 ways we can be grateful:
1. Look at your everyday blessings.
Make the decision to look not at what you don’t have, but at what you do. Each day there are dozens of things, both big and small, to be thankful for. Keep your eyes open for the different shapes of blessings. Yes, a blessing is your new job or a sudden opportunity, but it is also those things we so often overlook: running water—that we can get to an exact temperature we want, a car to drive and three meals a day. How many people out there desperately wish for these things?
So many people are living in fear, poverty, or even having to flee their homes. Tonight when you get into your warm and comfortable bed: Thank God that you have one.
We can also bring back into mind the things God did in the past that we are still thankful for. The Israelites made a habit of reciting the stories of what happened when God brought them out of Egypt, like His parting the Red Sea and bringing manna. They intentionally cultivated gratitude. And this practice aided their faith. It reminded them that that same good and powerful God was still with them.
Many of us take for granted the presence of a friend or family member. Unfortunately, we won’t have all of them our whole life, and there’s no time like now to appreciate their presence.
2. Go outside and experience nature.
Paul once said we have no excuse not to believe in God, because He is revealed around us. Even His character is shown in the natural world (Romans 1:20).
Nature is a pure display of God’s goodness and creativity. It’s as if His joy for the world exploded forth into physical manifestation. Consider the moving clouds, the varied sunsets and the onset of a rainbow—they almost display the smile of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” (Psalm 19:1)
Nature also reflects the peace of God. Sometimes when I feel stressed, I take a walk barefoot in the grass of my backyard, feel the soothing breeze and end up feeling a little more calm than before.
Nature even shows God’s patience as well as His diligence. We can barely see the growth of plants and flowers, but we know they are always growing peacefully and steadfastly. I actually like to see this as encouragement. If I feel I’m not changing “fast enough,” it’s as if God tells me to look at nature; that likewise I can grow, one step at a time.
God didn’t have to paint us such a beautiful world. It could be drab and uninteresting. But instead, there are 100 billion stars in the night sky. Each tiny snowflake has a different intricate pattern. And each fall paints the leaves of trees with new colors.
Open your eyes to look at our special world with wonder. It will only help you know and appreciate more the heart of the Lord who who created it.
3. Remember how much God loves us.
Scripture says, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)
This verse shows us that we can have joy in each day specifically because God made it. His making it means He has already determined the events that will take place. He is influencing things in ways we can’t see and don’t know. It means He is caring for us, so we can “be still and know” that He is God. When we know these things, we have due reason to rejoice.
Truth be told, God doesn’t have to be invested in every little detail of our personal lives on a daily basis. With all the “bigger things” He has to attend to, it’s touching that our little business meeting or the argument we had with our friend matters to God. And they do. After all, He loves us, and He knows they matter to us.
Let’s try to not take what we’re so accustomed to—God’s attentive care toward us—for granted. We can praise Him for lovingly being in charge of each moment and upholding us through it, as if we were each His only child.
4. Try to think past your current pain.
When we’re struggling or in pain, the last thing we feel like doing is being thankful. God knows that challenges are hard and they’re not supposed to feel good. Yet Scripture tells us that even in times of suffering, we are to look at what it produces and be thankful for that. “Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you go through trials of many kinds, because you know the trials of your faith develop perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)
We are invited to look beneath the noisy surface of emotional angst and into the deeper good that is being produced. We are asked to trust that God will not let any pain go to waste, but rather is using this to develop us to the potential He sees for us.
God might also be using your challenges to bring about a better tangible outcome: to get you out of a situation that is unhealthy or to bring up old habits in order to heal you. Just remember this: “In all things God works to the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).
God also comforts us with the fact that it won’t always feel so hard. We are meant to cling to His reassurance that while “weeping remains for the night, joy comes in the morning.” It may not be immediate, but we can feel thankful that it is promised to come.
The Fruits of Gratitude
When we are grateful—when we grab hold of the big or even tiny rays of light we can see—it changes things. Suddenly we are more than victims and our life is more than empty. There is meaning, purpose and beauty every day. There is something to look forward to. Scripture says that “a garment of praise” replaces “a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3)
Here’s the best part: Gratitude is the recognition that you are blessed specifically because you are loved. And love is what we all long for most. If we can be thankful, it means we are aware of God’s love and ready to receive it. It means it can then change us.
Gratitude, when truly experienced, will humble you. It will help you release credit for any good in your life, so you give credit where it’s due. Gratitude honors God. And it will help you love Him more.
You could also say that being grateful opens the door to future ways God desires to bless us. God watches how we handle what He gives us today. He knows that if He can trust us with a little, He can trust us with more in the future (Luke 16:10).
Gratefulness is like a muscle. If it’s not often used, it feels weak and easy to ignore. But with practice, we can slowly build it up. With all the ways it blesses God and brings us joy, I think it’s worth the effort.