If your social media feed looks anything like mine in November, thankfulness and gratitude are making a comeback. In a buildup to Thanksgiving, friends list one thing each day that makes them thankful and grateful.
Let’s be honest, these are a welcome break from all the complaints and cancellations and criticisms that we often see.
It’s a positive turn of events, which is backed up by psychological research. When the Journal of Positive Psychology poured through over 50 studies, research found that an attitude of gratitude is associated with higher levels of emotional and social well-being and more experiences of positive emotional states, such as happiness, life satisfaction, and flourishing.
Well, that sounds easy.
So just be grateful, okay?
Except . . . what if, like me, you know what you should do but don’t always do it? (You know, like not eating all the kids’ trick-or-treat peanut butter cups. But I digress.) More seriously, what if life events—such as illness, divorce, recovery, addiction, or grieving—have placed you in a season of struggle versus celebration? Or what if your personality naturally leans more toward Eeyore than Tigger? Then it isn’t always easy to be grateful.
Plus, it doesn’t help when we consistently see negativity. In the field of psychology, researchers note the “frequency illusion.” Every time you notice something, you believe it has a high frequency of occurrence. For instance, if you’re looking for yellow cars, you’ll see more yellow cars because your brain is looking for them. (Maybe this is why my husband can see more deer in the fields as we are driving on the highway than I can. Again, I digress.) If you’re looking for all the reasons your boss, family, neighbors, and the world in general are against you, you’ll find them.
What if you and I used frequency illusion for the positive? We could obey God when he tells us to “devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). We could develop an attitude of gratitude by being devoted to a practice of gratitude. By looking for reasons to be thankful, we’ll find reasons to be thankful.
So what if, for the next week (or two or four or six), we develop the practice of gratitude by being intentionally grateful? Here are seven ideas on how to do that. Do them all—all day, every day. Ha! Just kidding. Pick one.
- Begin all your prayers with a few sentences of gratitude. This will remind you that God is good, even when life is hard.
- Each day, post something you are grateful for on social media—and ask people to join in. You’ll be looking for joy in your own life and helping others look for the good things in their lives too.
- Keep a private gratitude journal. Each morning, write two (or one or five) things you are grateful for. At night, write two events (or one or five) from the day that were positive.
- Compliment one person every day. Tell them why you are thankful for them, what positive qualities you see in them. They will be grateful for your gratitude.
- Keep a public blessings board. In your home, write down the blessings you’ve seen each day. This cumulative gratitude board will remind you of God’s consistent faithfulness.
- Write a letter a week, telling someone how they have been a blessing to you. Include people from your past and your present. Maybe even pick someone you occasionally struggle with but who hasn’t been all negative in your life.
- End all your prayers with a few sentences of gratitude.
The upside of developing these habits is that gratitude will become more natural the longer you practice it. There’s another psychology-related term for this: neuroplasticity. You can actually rewire and retrain your brain from the negative to the positive.
You know, there’s actually another Bible passage that confirms this too: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. . . . And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:8,7, passages transposed intentionally).
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor who couldn’t get the children’s song refrain “Are you grumbly hateful or humbly grateful” out of her head while writing this.