Each year Thanksgiving comes with a fury and I hurriedly move on with the rush of the holiday season, once again reminded to give thanks every day for the people and things that make a difference in my life.
Most days, it’s easy to approach life with a positive attitude and take note of the good things in a particular situation. But some days the challenges of life get to me. When my kids have repeated meltdowns or make more messes than I care to count, when I don’t make any check marks on my to-do list, or when my introverted self doesn’t get to recharge when I want to; I can lose sight of the goodness and forget to give thanks. Sometimes, I complain or repeatedly let the smallest things frustrate me. Other times, I spiral even further into a pit of anxiety and negativity. And the whole time, I feel shame for letting it all get to me in the first place.
Understanding The Thankful Heart
Growing up, I’d always equated the thankful heart with a bubbly personality with a constant smiles. I would think something was wrong with me because I was the furthest thing from bubbly. Not to mention, there were times I didn’t feel like smiling. But over the years I’ve learned those things aren’t the barometer for measuring a thankful heart.
Of course, a thankful heart can produce those things in some people. However, they aren’t what being thankful is all about. A thankful heart is about how you function at your core. It’s about feeling frustration, but recognizing who can calm and give peace. It’s about feeling anxious, but knowing where to cast your cares. It’s about being weary and realizing there is One in whom you can find rest. And knowing that is the same One who is a shepherd, a healer, and the ultimate source of provision. Then, seeing those gifts like being given a Powerball jackpot when you never had the money to buy a ticket.
As an imperfect person living an imperfect life, sometimes I forget that and act out of my sadness, frustration, and anxiety. But I know God, His love, and His grace are sufficient for all of it. And like David in Psalm 138, I am thankful for that with my whole heart.
In Aristotle’s famous quote about excellence, he says “we are what we repeatedly do.” Cultivating a thankful heart works the same way. The more we acknowledge God’s role in our lives and give thanks for it, the more natural it becomes to express our thankfulness in all circumstances. Thankful hearts aren’t developed overnight. It takes time. It takes intentionality. And it takes lots of practice.
Here are some of the many ways we can practice thankfulness:
Prayer is something that really helps me practice gratitude. It allows me to give thanks to God, not only for His provision, but also for the kindness and generosity of others. It also plays a big part in how we teach our daughter to be thankful. My husband and I pray for our daughter every night, giving thanks for her and all she’s done as she lies tucked in tight. Initially, my daughter didn’t couldn’t think of anything to give thanks for. Now, we can’t finish a prayer without her naming at least one thing we forgot to mention.
Writing is a great way to keep track of what you’re thankful for. Some time ago I wrote about how words help me remember. Like framed words and art in a home, I think writing as a way to practice thankfulness can work to remind us that there are still things to give thanks for, even when days are hard. Gratitude journals, planners, or simple notebooks can be used to keep running lists organized.
Praying and journaling require you to recall what you’re thankful for, but speaking lets you give thanks in the moment. Whether it’s saying “Thank you” to a friend for a gift or giving a shout of praise to God himself for waking another day or finding that $20 you thought you lost months ago, speaking helps us keep gratitude on our lips and makes us more mindful of the various ways He continues to bless us and enable others to be a blessing to us.
4. Send A Note
I didn’t learn about the beauty of the thank you note until my late 20s. In fact, I’m still working to make this one a habit because I see how many people have a real appreciation for it. Living in this age of quick communication, any thank you note—especially a handwritten one—goes a long way.
5. Be A Blessing To Others (Serve & Give)
God calls us to do good, share what we have (Hebrews 13:16) and use the gifts we receive to serve one another (1 Peter 14:10). When we share what we have—time, talent, resources—we show a desire to become a blessing to others out of gratitude for own blessings.
Seeing The Fruit
Author Melanie Beattie says, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” I never really thought of gratitude that way until I started being more intentional about giving thanks both to God and to others. Now, I understand how it can be true.
As we practice thankfulness, we show our trust in God and make way for contentment where it is needed. We see what is really enough, how we can use what’s been given to us, and how we can fully appreciate what we have. And we live out of that, with heart continually praising the One who made it all possible.