By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
Have you ever been to dinner with someone who complains about every tiny detail of the meal? You get the feeling that it wouldn’t matter if everything was perfect, they would still find something to be unhappy about. And then, we’ve all met someone who has gone through the unthinkable...yet lives life with a smile on their face.
Perspective is powerful! How we perceive our circumstances has the power to ruin a dream vacation or to bring joy to the most tragic events. Being intentional about expressing gratitude is a great tool to help maintain a joy-filled perspective through every season of life.
Joy truly comes from within. Psalm 107:8-9 says, “Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” These words point us to the truth that the Lord is the source of the satisfaction we need. We “give thanks to the Lord” as a way to acknowledge God as our provider.
We all desire to be thankful and filled with positivity, but it can be a battle to ensure our minds are fixed on the good around us rather than focusing on the bad. We have to be intentional about creating rhythms that remind us to express our gratitude to others and to the Lord. Here are five ways to cultivate a grateful heart and better express gratitude in your daily life:
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1. Start Your Day with a Gratitude List
Your morning routines make a big difference in the mindset you bring into your day. If you want to cultivate a grateful heart then you have to create the habit of expressing daily gratitude to the Lord for who He is and the many ways he provides. The habit of starting your day by writing down three things you are thankful for is a great way to set your mind on the good over the bad.
This discipline helps you to give daily thanks to God for the details of your life.
Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
The practice of physically writing down the things you are most grateful for pushes your mind into searching out these lovely things that exist in your life.
Your list can include things as miraculous as a healed loved one or as simple as the warmth that a morning cup of coffee brings to your day. The more you push yourself to make this your morning routine, the easier it will be to spot the bright spaces in your life.
The dark, difficult moments have a way of blinding you to the good moments. You have to put effort into seeing the places God and His goodness is shining through you (and those around you) in this dark world.
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2. Write a Letter or Mail a Card That Expresses Gratitude
Expressing gratitude means taking the time to communicate to the people around you how much you appreciate them. Sometimes articulating exactly what someone brings to your life can feel awkward in person.
Writing a letter or sending a card gives you the chance to think through all the ways you are blessed by your spouse, family, friends, or others in your community. If you're not into snail mail, a thoughtful email or e-card can also express thanks in a meaningful way.
Reading kind and handcrafted words has the power to touch a heart. We often think so big when it comes to saying “thank you.” Grand gestures and gifts aren't necessarily a bad thing, but it can overcomplicate this important act. It’s better to make sure you're communicating value to those around you, even in a simple manner, than to hold off because you feel your efforts aren’t sufficient.
The ministry of a thank-you card is so valuable.
Using this to express love and gratitude in your home can change the tone of a stressed relationship. A handwritten note from Mom, expressing what you are thankful for in your child, is a treasure that can melt away tension. No matter how long you’ve been married, a love letter is never a bad idea. Life gets so busy, you can take for granted that your spouse knows how much you appreciate them. And no matter how long it's been since you've reached out to a parent or sibling, you can let them know you're grateful for them in this kind way.
When any of us feels unappreciated, conflict begins to erupt. Write down what you love about each other—and do it often—to help preserve the joy of your relationships.
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3. Create a Gratitude Journal
Psalm 27:13 says, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
I love this promise, but it’s not always easy to have the eyes to see the goodness around you. That is where the discipline of writing in a gratitude journal is so helpful.
When my kids were young, I struggled under the oppressive power of anxiety and depression. What I hated most about this time period was that I logically knew that so much beauty was unfolding around me each day. From baby snuggles, to chubby toddler thighs, and all the amazing firsts that were flying by.
So much goodness, but my mind was crowded with thoughts of fear and anxiety. I wasn't able to experience the beauty in the way I desired. During this time I decided to dedicate a journal to listing all the things I was thankful for each day. Over the course of a few months, this practice helped shift my mind from being consumed with negativity to being able to much more clearly see the goodness of the Lord that was in my life.
When my mind was inundated with darkness, I could go back and reread my life and be reminded that God’s goodness was all around me.
Dedicate the space of a journal solely to expressing the things you see in your life as gifts!
Journaling is a chance to unload your mind onto a page. It’s an open page, a free space, a blank canvas for you to express the things that you are most thankful for. If you are artistic, there is room to illustrate your heart. If words on paper are your preferred way to express yourself, a journal is an ocean of possibility!
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4. Meditate on Verses that Encourage Gratitude
Luke 6:45 says, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”
If you want gratitude to come naturally, then you have to make sure you're filling your heart with truths that will produce thankful words. The Bible is your best source of truth in a confusing world. Thanksgiving is emphasized all throughout the scripture! Here are a few great verses you can work to commit to memory:
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! – Psalm 107:1
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:15
Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:20
I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. – Psalm 69:30
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:57
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5. Use Your Words to Express Gratitude
It sounds so simple...but how often do you forget to just say “thank you” or articulate to your children or spouse how thankful you are in your heart about something God has done? It’s easy to move forward with life so quickly that you neglect actually verbally telling the people around you thanks.
Saying “thank you” honors the people around you. It acknowledges the role they play in your life. Everyone wants to be seen...and a simple “thank you” is a powerful way to say to others that you see them.
I try to remember this everywhere I go! You never know what burdens others are carrying and sometimes a small expression of kindness can mean a lot to even the random worker that you see at the grocery store or your co-worker across the office. Striving to verbally express gratitude for every interaction from small to big is one way you can be God’s light in this dark world.
The verbal expression of gratitude builds bridges! My husband and I are foster parents, and when we have a placement, there is something called an “ice breaker.” This is where the parents and foster parents meet face-to-face. It’s extremely awkward at first. But in my experience, what breaks this tension is the expression of gratitude.
When Mom can hear I am appreciative of her input—and when I know the parents appreciate us as caretakers—the awkwardness fades and a relationship begins.
If this is true for strangers stuck in an impossibly difficult situation, it is absolutely true that the more we say thank you to our loved ones, our relationships will be greatly strengthened!
Let’s make an effort to take that extra step to express gratitude to God and those around us. Focusing on what is good around us will change hearts and minds for the better.
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Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for the Daily Bible Devotions App, she has work published with Her View from Home, also for the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her blog or follow her on Instagram.