By Judi Clarke
I was grouchy, anxious, and thoroughly stressed out. It had been one of those days. Stuff kept flying at me all day long – demands, glitches, hurt feelings, urgencies, delays, and failures. They'd bullied me for hours, and the last straw came somewhere on my 25-mile commute home. I was about to come unglued.
Then I remembered the lessons in thanksgiving that God had been trying to teach me. I had kept a thanks journal for an entire year, but that year was well over, and I’d fallen out of practice. This day, I was overwhelmed like a tiny rowboat in a raucous ocean. The waters of negative emotions rose high above me, carrying me from one bad attitude to the next. On the drive home, the turbulent waves threatened to break over me, to break me.
I turned to God and decided to stop griping and give thanks instead. I knew I needed a hefty dose of positivity to counter my frame of mind, so I challenged myself to thank God for 50 things as quickly as I could. Nothing was too trivial, too ordinary, or too cliché to thank Him for. I told myself to just rattle off everything worthy of thanks that came to mind.
The first ten or so were the obvious ones: my husband, family, senses, working limbs, employment, our home, etc. Then, other things came to mind, special gifts of people in my life, my surroundings, the beauty God allowed me to enjoy. God. Wow―God's love for me, that He died for me, how He puts up with my stressed-out tantrums. Thank You, God.
I tried to keep count. At around 30 or so, I was a completely different person. Calm, quieted, breathing, and conversing with God about how good He has been to me. Giving thanks changed me.
The effects of gratitude are scientifically proven.
Robert A. Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California-Davis, is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. For over 15 years, he has studied the effects of gratitude on physical and psychological health and relationships. In an article called Why Gratitude is Good, Dr. Emmons notes that while gratitude journals and other exercises can seem too simple, the results of his studies involving them have been overwhelming.
We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
Physical • Stronger immune systems • Less bothered by aches and pains • Lower blood pressure • Exercise more and take better care of their health • Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
Psychological • Higher levels of positive emotions • More alert, alive, and awake • More joy and pleasure • More optimism and happiness
Social • More helpful, generous, and compassionate • More forgiving • More outgoing • Feel less lonely and isolated.
Those are some pretty profound benefits! No wonder God instructs us over and over in Scripture to give thanks.* Not only is it appropriate to give God thanks, it’s good for us! Because God loves us, He tells us to give Him thanks.
4 Ways to Develop Gratitude
Despite how much God has given us, thankfulness doesn’t come naturally. It needs to be developed and practiced. Cultivating a thankful heart is part of the renewing of our mind that the apostle Paul talks about in Romans 12:2.
So, how do we cultivate gratitude? First, ask God to help you develop the habit of giving thanks. Then, practice, practice, practice.
Ask God to Help You, Remind You, Prompt You
Remember that God loves you and wants you to know His peace and joy. Being thankful is one of the ways He has designed for us to experience those blessings from Him. Ask Him to help you develop a thankful heart. Ask Him to remind you to think thankfully. Ask Him to bring to your attention each day things that are gifts to you – whether the ordinary or extraordinary.
Practice by Keeping a Thanks Journal
Pick up a blank notebook and start writing down things at the end of each day that you are thankful for. Write down five things, three things, or ten things from each day. Even one thing is practicing the art of being thankful and will help you develop a grateful heart. Try selecting one item on your list and expounding on it. As you continue your thanks journal, you will begin to notice more and more thanks-worthy things in your life. Be sure to actually thank God for the things on your list. Without directing our thanks to God, we miss the opportunity to deepen our fellowship with Him and experience Him as the Giver of all good gifts.
Practice by Listing Your Thanks
You’ll have much more to be thankful for than the few items you’ll write down in your journal each day. Practice gratitude by thanking God for a list of blessings in your life. Whatever comes to your mind that is worthy of thanksgiving, list it before Him. It doesn’t need to be written, and you don’t have to wait until you’re drowning in stress like I did that day. In fact, it’s better to get in the habit of regularly “counting your blessings.” It’s a great way to start the day: thanking God for what He has given to you before you even engage in your daily routine.
Practice by Thanking God for What You Read in His Word
Another way to develop a grateful heart is to read God’s Word with thanks in mind. As you read, thank Him for the truths you see on the pages of your Bible. His Word tells us about His character, His love, truth, compassion, and His plans. His Word tells us what He has already done for us and what will come to pass in the future. When you come to one of these amazing truths, thank Him for it.
Developing a thankful heart is good for our health, our mind, and our relationships. Being thankful helps us see what is right in front of us and realize God’s overflowing goodness.
Another Thanksgiving holiday is upon us, and it reminds us that gratitude is a year-round habit that needs cultivating. As I realize how long it’s been since I kept a thanks journal, I plan on starting a new one to practice giving thanks. I know it will be good for me. That’s the way God designed it—because He loves us.
*See Psalm 107:1, Psalm 100:4, Psalm 118, Psalm 136, Ephesians 5:4, Philippians 4:6, Philippians 4:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, 1 Timothy 2:1, 1 Timothy 4:4.