Lately I’ve been practicing what I call intentional gratitude. I stop in the day, as often as I think to, and pause to recount things for which I am grateful.
I’m always amazed at two things:
- how many things I have to be grateful for
- how easy it is to overlook them
It’s like the old saying about seeing the glass as half-empty, or half-full. Our lives are always like that: both full and empty. There are things we have, and things we lack. Blessings and disappointments. And our default seems to be for the bad things, the disappointments, to get all of our focus. So we have to be intentional to focus on the blessings.
What I have been experiencing is that this simple habit of directing our focus on the good things in my life has the most incredible power to create joy.
Gratitude is one of the most incredible feelings I’ve ever experienced—like a balloon inflating in my chest, or like watching the sun rising in the morning. To look upon the various happenings of your life and be truly grateful—to say to God, from deep within your heart, thank you.
This all started for me a while back when I heard an Ann Voskamp quote—I can’t remember exactly where I heard it, or how it was worded. But it went something like this:
Joy does not lead to gratitude. Gratitude leads to joy.
I’d been feeling pretty low in the season of life we were in, so I started giving this idea a try: practicing intentional gratitude as a pathway to joy.
I thought it would make a small difference: maybe a 2-5% bump in my emotional well-being on any given day.
Instead, I’d put it closer to 30-40%. Gratitude is powerful. Its easy to underestimate.
Sometimes it’s a simple thing, like the bite of a chocolate chip cookie, or the beauty of the sun upon green leaves. Often it’s my family. My house. A church that accepts and loves me. Then I keep thinking of things. Books that have been accepted. Living in California, a place we love. Good health. Friends. My gym membership. Happy memories. On and on I can go!
Even just thinking about gratitude gives me joy. Talking about it gives me joy.
My goal is to keep this up until it becomes more habitual and more instinctual: to cultivate a continual stream of gratitude in my heart that flows upward to God each day, without effort or planning. Till saying the words “thank you” silently in my mind is like breathing.
The great thing about gratitude is that anybody can do it. Its not dependent upon having great circumstances. If you cannot think of anything to be grateful for, start with your breathing. Each breath is a gift.
I’ve also discovered that suffering and sadness do not negate the power of gratitude. Even when you are lamenting disappointments of life—the glass is half-empty stuff—gratitude still works. Often, in my experience, it overcomes negative emotions, or at least staves them off a bit. I don’t know how to explain that—a psychologist maybe could. I just know it works.
Gratitude leads to joy. Give it a try. It works.
In Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search For Meaning”, he would do the same thing you’re talking about, but for him it was being grateful that his toes hadn’t fallen off, or finding something solid, like a pea, in his soup, or being able to get out of his bunk in the morning, or being able to let someone take his spot in the line that was going to work rather than the line going to the gas chamber. Most of all, he was grateful to be able to hold onto his dignity when everything else had been forcibly removed from him and his life. He also pointed out that people who make a gratitude list that creeps up into a hundred or more, are quite simply spoiled.
I’m one of those spoiled rotten people who take everything for granted and the result is always misery. When you say you’re grateful to live in California, I was reminded of just how spoiled I really am. I grew up in California, and watched it slowly deteriorate over the course of the last 40 years. I left CA ten years ago, and have no intention of ever returning. I miss the mountains and surfing, but I’ve saved over $100k just in taxes and the cost of living there.
I spent 20 years living in and around the San Francisco bay area. I went from living in a place where people engage in sexual acts in broad daylight with impunity to a place where law enforcement has to direct traffic all over the county on Sunday mornings because everyone is in church.
Thanks for relieving me of the burden I woke up with this morning.
Gavin, this is great! Thanks for sharing your reflections and the challenge. I was once challenged to begin a thanksgiving journal where each night before I slept I would record 3 events or things for which I was grateful that day. Sometimes the 3 turned to pages of things for which I was grateful that day. I began this journal in 2005 during a time when I was regrettably experiencing an inescapable spirit of contempt. After 2 months or so of daily recording my gratitude to God for the many gifts I experienced each day, I realized one morning that I was free from the contempt that had “inescapably” harassed me for over two years! Gratitude is powerful… Thanks be to God!
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“Thankfulness awakens you to My presence, which overshadows all your problems.” Jesus Calling (June22) Sarah Young
Thanks Gavin. Good to hear your thoughts. May read “Baronet Song” again. I experience something new and helpful every time I re-read. Phin
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I believe it! I’ve experienced it! Thanks for putting it into words!
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Amazing and powerful.
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