The holiday season is in full swing, and one of the things you are likely going to hear a lot of talk about is gratitude. After Thanksgiving, we hear all about the virtues of gratitude everywhere — from television commercials to the Sunday church — until the calendar rolls over into 2022. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gratitude is a key component of living a joy-filled life. However, there is a danger in cramming all of our gratitude into the last month of the year and then simply not thinking about it the rest of the year. Gratitude does not have an annual quota. You can’t simply check off the box and then ignore it.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a wider view of gratitude. I want to talk about cultivating a habit of gratefulness that carries us not only through this December but until the next one as well. In a season where we are all scrambling to find the perfect gift, a spirit of gratitude is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
Joy and gratitude go hand in hand.
Do you carry a joyful attitude with you? I don’t mean simply being happy. Happiness comes and goes. It’s tied to things like personal success, being on vacation, or something as small as if your favorite team won this week. Joy is something deeper. Joy is a wellspring that we carry with us all the time, regardless of our circumstances. For Christians, the source of joy is our relationship with Jesus. His love beyond understanding anchors us no matter what we go through. And the fruit of that beautiful relationship is peace and joy.
However, being joyful all the time isn’t easy. It’s just part of being human. We get caught up in our troubles, big and small. Nobody wants to let things that are out of their control dictate how they feel, and yet so often that’s exactly what we do. Gratitude is the tool we can use to hold onto that joy and project it out into the world.
An attitude of gratitude may be a platitude…but it’s true.
There’s an old song that has been sung in Sunday schools for as long as I can remember. You’ll probably only need the first line: “Count your many blessings, count them one by one…”
When we remember all the things we have to be thankful for, it becomes more difficult to focus on the things we don’t have. When we think of all the things God has done for us, an acute sense of gratitude comes into focus. While there’s no replacing hard work and a sense of accomplishment, the truth is that we don’t earn many of our greatest blessings. Simply being able to see, hear, taste, and smell are gifts unto themselves. There’s no replacing caring friends and family. And too often we neglect to remember that we’re healthy enough to go to work, take a trip, or do a bit of yard work. Everyone has had a head cold at some point and looked back fondly on when they could breathe easily. And yet, a week after getting better that gratitude is long gone as we face the more pressing challenges of today.
How to get in a habit of gratitude
Being grateful is a choice we have to make every day. The good news is, like all habits, a spirit of gratitude is one we can practice day in and day out. I can’t promise it will ever become second nature — in fact, gratitude often seems to be in direct opposition toward our sinful nature as humans — but the more you work on it the easier it will become.
Here are some practical things you can do to force yourself to slow down and be more grateful throughout your day. Best of all, these work all year round, long after “Gratitude Season” has come and gone.
Stop and think before thanking God for your food before a meal
From the time we are young, many of us get in the habit of thanking God for our meal. After all, this is a great way to get kids (and busy adults) to slow down and appreciate what they have before forging on with the rest of their day.
The problem is, it becomes rote and automatic. We turn prayer into a script we follow without actually thinking about what we’re saying. I have a friend who prays for the groceries after coming home from the grocery store in order to “get the prayer out of the way”. Stopping to pray is good, but if it ever becomes a reflex or something we’re doing merely to check a box, then we need to reevaluate why we’re doing it.
So if you ever find yourself doing this, here is my challenge to you: Stop, take a moment and really think
about it. I’m not saying you can’t still be grateful for your meal. There is something special about someone preparing a meal for you or taking a few minutes out of a busy day for a moment of peace. The key is that when we say “thank you”, we really mean it.
Write down what you are grateful for, every night.
Have you ever had a sudden pleasant memory come rushing back to you because you saw a picture? I find this is happening more and more to me as my phone and social media remind me what happened a year or two ago on any given day. Honestly, I love it. It’s easy to remember what happened on big occasions like birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries.
What’s harder to remember though, are the thousands of little moments that make up a day. Journaling what you are grateful for is essentially serving the same purpose as all those photos. Before you go to sleep, take a moment and write down everything that you were grateful for that day. Be as specific as you can and resist the temptation to self-edit. Just like those photos, no moment of joy is too small or insignificant. Write them down, reflect on them, and perhaps say a prayer just to express how thankful you are that you got to experience them.
Find an accountability partner
Many of us are simply not good at keeping ourselves accountable. It’s why so many of the New Year resolutions people make this year will be the exact same ones they make next year. It’s hard to do anything by yourself, especially things like breaking bad habits and mindsets. The Bible is pretty clear that community is important. So let’s leverage that community to help.
You shouldn’t have to look far to find someone who wants more joy and gratitude in their life. It’s something we all want, and yet so many of us aren’t very good at it. The premise is simple: get someone to agree to check in occasionally and talk about how things are going through the lens of being more grateful. This can be as structured or as loose as you’d like, but you have to do it. This can mean getting coffee twice a month, or simply calling and checking in over the weekends. The point is that the conversations are consistent and, most importantly, honest.
Carry joy with you all year long
The best part about these ideas is that they aren’t seasonal. You’re not relying on a time of year or the holiday warm and fuzzies to remind you that you have a lot to be grateful for. By being intentional and building habits that cultivate joy, you’ll find things to be grateful for every single day. Regardless of whether you have a good day or bad day, you’ll be seeking out and appreciating moments to be thankful. Carrying yourself with that spirit of gratitude day in and day out does more than just improve your own life, it will inevitably reflect on others. Joy is like the candle at the Christmas Eve service. We pass it from one person to the next, and hopefully, light the world. Merry Christmas.