Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
If you’ve ever had to do a chore or errand you didn’t find particularly pleasant, you probably know that the experience feels interminable. When you go into something expecting it to be bad, it can feel like it’s going on forever.
Trips to the DMV, the grocery store, or an unpleasant conversation with an unpleasant character are all difficulties we need to face at one point or another in life. However, it’s possible to make a tough situation like that a little easier for yourself, and one way to do that is to enter the situation with a mindset of gratitude.
Being grateful means being able to recognize the positive things in your life and being able to see it all for the gift that it is. When you’re grateful for something, typically we can express that through giving thanks verbally or showing our appreciation in some other way.
We can be grateful for any number of things, from the very fact that we are alive, to seeing a beautiful sky or a colorful flower on the sidewalk, or to recognizing how precious life is when you or a family member recovers from a serious illness.
Gratitude isn’t something we can practice or show only in the good times, nor is it turning a blind eye to the hard things we may be facing. One of the most effusively thankful letters in the Bible was written by the apostle Paul while he was sitting in prison.
Surely, in his circumstances, sitting in a jail for preaching about Jesus, he probably had a lot to be sour about. Instead, the Holy Spirit focused his heart and through him, the hearts of the readers of his letter, toward the amazing things God was doing even in those dire circumstances. He wrote:
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. – Philippians 1:12-14
This is remarkable! And toward the end of the letter, Paul wrote “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6). He, a man sitting in prison, was encouraging the believers in the city of Philippi, to not be anxious!
In many places, the Bible encourages us to be grateful and to give thanks. A few such places include.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” – Colossians 3:15
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” – Psalm 107:1
The Psalms are full of encouragement for us to give thanks and be grateful, even in tough situations; perhaps especially in tough situations because that is when we need it most. Gratitude, as we’ll see just now, is good for us.
The benefits of gratitude
There are many benefits to gratitude, and these are a few of them:
Having a happier life. When you live your life with gratitude being the main theme in your life, it makes for an optimistic outlook on things. Now, that doesn’t mean that life doesn’t throw you curveballs, or that hardships will magically disappear. To deny the reality of hardship and the weight of feelings such as sadness and grief would lead to a form of toxic positivity. Being grateful makes for a happier life in that you can still see the light even in dark places.
You’re more productive. Often, the counterpart of gratitude is grumbling, complaining, and envying others. That can take a lot of energy, and it can take your focus from what you’re meant to be doing. Being grateful can ground you in the here and now; being present and alive to what is before you are a great start to being productive, whether that’s in your relationships or your work.
You’re better able to handle stress. We all go through difficult and stressful times. From deadlines, life pressures, disappointments, illness, and much else, we get stressed. Gratitude can help you to cope better under stress; one can think of it as a pressure valve that you can activate to let off some of that build-up of stress.
Your relationships are healthier. Grateful people are easier to be around. Not only are the words “Thank you” a polite thing to say to strangers, but they go a long way within your relationships with people that you know. Gratitude thus plays an important role in casual relationships, just as it does in strengthening your important relationships such as with your siblings, parents, spouse, or other loved ones.
Not only does gratitude enhance empathy and reduce aggression which is important when dealing with tense situations or times of conflict, but grateful people tend to behave in ways that enhance community even when others around them aren’t kind or gracious. In romantic relationships, gratitude goes a long way between romantic partners, as it can increase relationship satisfaction.
Gratitude improves one’s self-esteem. Gratitude works to reduce comparisons with other people. When you’re predominantly oriented toward gratitude, you focus on the good you have in your own life, rather than dwelling on the lack. Dwelling on what you don’t have and what other people possess can lead to resentment and envy.
We all at one point or another have experienced the green-eyed monster because a relative, next-door neighbor, or even a total stranger has something we do not, whether it was a better home, car, well-behaved children, more money, and so on. That resentment and envy are significant factors that contribute to lower self-esteem. Instead of dwelling in resentment, a grateful person is better able to appreciate their own life and accomplishments, as well as those of other people.
You sleep better. Being grateful helps you to sleep better. If you cultivate gratitude throughout your day, you’re more likely to have positive thoughts as you’re drifting off to sleep. Instead of having negative thoughts to dwell on before bed, having more positive thoughts than negative ones when you’re going to bed has been associated with dozing off faster and sleeping better and for much longer.
It improves your resilience. Gratitude plays an important role in reducing stress, and it may also play a critical role in overcoming trauma. Gratitude is about recognizing all you have and can be thankful for. Cultivating this practice even during the worst times of your life, such as when you experience trauma, can help to foster resilience.
Your health improves. We’ve already mentioned how gratitude improves your capacity to deal with stress as well as the relational benefits of the practice. When stress builds up, it can harm your health because it affects your immune response to potential bodily threats. On the other hand, increased mental well-being can help your body fight off illness, and so gratitude can contribute to better physical health.
Gratitude also has an impact on your mental health, for example. Not only does gratitude help to contribute to a good overall sense of well-being, but gratitude has been shown to reduce a broad range of toxic emotions such as envy, regret, resentment, and frustration.
How to adopt a gratitude mindset
You can cultivate gratitude in daily practices that can be implemented easily and integrated into how you do life.
- In your daily prayers, make it a point to see what you can thank God for.
- In every situation, try and find things that you can look at in a positive light.
- Tell others that you’re grateful for them and what they’ve done in your life.
- Journal. Often, the good things that happen to us escape notice and are lost due to forgetfulness or being busy. Perhaps we feel entitled to good things, and so when they happen, we are more likely to say, “It’s about time!” than we are to say, “Thank you!”. Write down the things you’re thankful for. You can have a gratitude jar that you fill up throughout the year (or month or week if you want to keep short accounts). Look back and appreciate all the things that have happened to you.
- Pay attention to the little things in life. The flower on the sidewalk, the open parking space at the grocery store, a message from a friend saying they are thinking of you – all of these aren’t to be taken for granted.
- Express your gratitude by extending kindness toward others. We are blessed and we receive God’s blessings so that we may bless others (Psalm 67:1-2).
“Splash”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Find Joy In Everything”, Courtesy of Taylor Heery, Unsplash.com, CC0 “Little Queen”, Courtesy of Senjuti Kundu, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Riding a Swing”, Courtesy of Noah Silliman, Unsplash.com, CC0 License