The other day I sat down with my kids to enjoy one of their favorite movies, Finding Nemo. In one particularly enjoyable part of the Disney flick, two fish find themselves in a terrifying predicament. As the fish flop around frantically on an oceanside dock, some seagulls see the fish and don’t waste any time attempting to claim their prey. “Mine” says one, “Mine” says another, and more pipe in until it’s a constant chorus of “Mine, mine, mine, mine!” Soon enough, a great number of seagulls are fighting each other for a chance to get at the most desirable thing in the moment. I’ll let you check the film out for yourself to discover what happens next, but that part of the movie got me thinking. Does this scenario sound familiar to you? I don’t know about you, but it reminds me of Black Friday.
On the day after we count our blessings and thank God for his provision, the people of our culture practically run over each other to get to the biggest sale or the newest item. I’m not saying that shopping strategically on the best sale day of the year is a bad thing. In fact, it’s strategic and potentially the most practical choice for acquiring Christmas gifts. I am saying, however, that this trend might suggest that our culture is more likely to want more and less likely to be continually grateful for the things we already have.
Why should we be thankful?
In a world that is wrecked with disaster, where broken people do horrible things to each other, and darkness seems to be looming constantly, it is tempting to throw in the towel and forget any blessings that we do have. But when your focus is entirely on what you do not have, you’ll miss the joy of what you do have. If I focus only on the fact that my children’s dad is not present in their lives, I’ll miss the blessing that I have in my children who are present in my life. David Steindl-Rast said, “It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” When we thank God for the blessings we see, we will experience the beauty of having them. In his many letters to the churches, Paul instructs believers to thank God without ceasing for the hope they have in him and for the many blessings he has given them, even in the midst of terrible pain and hardship. Paul says that Christ will give us the strength to be thankful in any circumstance (Philippians 4:4-13).
Gratitude is a an attitude that is made up of a thousand daily choices to thank God and others. Here are some ways I have been learning to develop and maintain gratitude in my own life:
5 Ways to Maintain Gratitude
- Make a list of things you’re thankful for, and add to it every day. I try to add five new things to my list every night. There are some nights–usually during especially difficult times or when I am very exhausted–that I’ve listed things like “the pen I’m writing with” as my object of gratitude. Other times I have enough energy to elaborate on my day, and occasionally I add more than five things into my list.
- Ask others “What are you thankful for today?” When I ask this question, I’m often surprised by the things my friends and family appreciate. These times act as reminders to me to be thankful for things I might not have considered before that conversation.
- Say “Thank you, Jesus” out loud every single morning. When I begin my day with a statement of thankfulness, I find that I’m much more likely to continue in that line of thinking throughout the day.
- Consider the plight of people who are less fortunate. Sometimes, in order to realize your blessings, it’s helpful to look actively around you for people who have less financially, physically, or relationally than you do. * This one is tricky, because it can be easy to fall into negative comparison and false humility. (Luke 18:9-14)
- Help others. Whether or not they choose to thank you, giving to someone else can be a good way to practice gratitude whether you feel like it or not.
What ways have you found to develop and maintain gratitude in your own life?