We all know that one person who just always seems to be in a great mood. No matter what’s going on in their lives, they have a smile and a kind word for everyone. What’s more, it doesn’t seem to be an act – they genuinely appear to be happy and anxiety-free all the time. What’s their secret?
In a word: gratitude.
It’s a word that Christians hear all the time, but often in the context of being grateful for a specific blessing or moment in your life. It’s rarer for a person to live in a constant state of gratitude, probably because it’s not easy. When negative things come our way, we react – that’s part of the way God designed us, giving us instincts to identify potential threats so we could protect ourselves in the days when walking out of your home could mean literal life or death.
But it’s not impossible to cultivate a life in which gratitude is the norm, and here are 5 easy ways to get started.
1. Forget about circumstances.
Psalm 139:7 says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” It’s a fantastic reminder to all of us that God is constant. There is no physical place where He won’t be, but also there is no circumstance where His presence won’t be found.
On the other hand, circumstances come and go. Do you remember the biggest worry in your life from four years ago? What about four months ago? Four weeks ago? It’s likely that, unless you have been facing extraordinary challenges, these problems have come and gone, and you barely even remember them.
The more you can focus on the fact that a negative circumstance will be gone before long, and find peace in the eternal presence of God, the easier it is to be grateful for that very fact.
2. Don’t let your brain forget the good times.
In James 1:17, we are reminded that, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.” It’s a curious trick of the human mind that we are quick to forget the good times. Sometimes it can feel like you have nothing to be grateful for at all.
Try keeping a physical reminder of the gifts you’ve received. A gratitude journal is one way, but also consider things such as a souvenir ticket from the place where you met your spouse, or a photo from a mission trip that changed your life. Keep these items in places where you can see them regularly, to remind yourself of the things you do have to be grateful for.
3. Be content with what you have.
There is a story in Matthew of a farmer who sowed seeds in a field, where many circumstances led to some of his plants failing to produce any crops. Birds ate some of his seeds; poor soil in some areas caused plants to wither; thorns choked out the plants. But the farmer was grateful to see that the seeds that fell on good soil produced hundreds of plants to harvest.
After telling the story, Jesus said, “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Matthew 13:12)
While many Bible scholars focus on other verses in this chapter, there is a powerful message in these sentences. Those who focus on what they already have, being grateful for those things, will be blessed with even more. Those that focus on what they do not have, harboring envy in their hearts, will see that they lose even the few blessings they do have.
Perhaps this doesn’t mean that God will reach down from heaven to empty out your bank account if you aren’t grateful for it, but when you only feel disappointment that your wealth isn’t more, are you truly enjoying it to its fullest? You miss out on the blessing of enjoying your wealth when you aren’t grateful for what you have.
4. Pay it forward.
In Acts 20:35, Paul says, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “
Perspective is a magic bullet when it comes to gratitude. It is so easy to wake up thinking about the challenges you face each day, go through your day trying to tackle each one with grace, and then fall back asleep still ruminating on what you could have done differently. Notice the common denominator in all that? It’s you!
When you begin to look outside of yourself, you can start to put your own troubles in perspective against the grand scheme of things. By the same comparison, your blessings seem much larger. Not only do you have your home, your family, your steady paycheck, and your health, but you also have a relationship with the Lord – something that too many around the world do not. Pay your own blessings forward, and the joy of helping others will become something to be grateful for.
5. Fake it till it gets easier.
In Galatians 5:22, we learn that one of the fruits of the Spirit is joy, and that’s an interesting way to think about a characteristic. “Fruit” implies something that was grown and harvested – meaning something that someone had to put some work into.
Science tells us that the more we express gratitude, the stronger our brain becomes – and thus, the easier it is to keep expressing gratitude. This careful cultivating of gratefulness or joy is what leads to having a spirit like God’s. Even if you don’t feel particularly grateful, find something – or fake it – until you do feel gratitude genuinely.
Next time you find yourself stuck in a rut of complaining, give one of these tips a try!