Thoughts on cultivating gratitude

A couple months ago, I shared some thoughts on choosing joy, which I firmly believe goes hand in hand with gratitude and living a life of thanksgiving. Joy and gratitude go hand in hand, I deeply believe, and when you have a deep and profound sense of gratitude, you can find joy and contentment in countless things, big and small. When you find joy, gratitude simply overflows from that joy. In this season of thanksgiving and of being grateful, there are some tried and true steps that I try to take – daily – to really cultivate gratitude in my life. Being grateful for all of the (many, many, many) blessings in your life is imperative. It really is.

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1. Live in the present.

This one is hard for me, as I’m a perpetual planner. I love planning ahead and having things to look forward to! But it really is crucial to live in the present moment and to be fully cognizant of your world, right now. It’s also so important to find contentment in the journey and in where you are, at thise moment and stage of your life. You interact better with the people around you if you’re fully engaged with them. You grow stronger and more lasting friendships if your friends know you are there for them, right now. You live life as it comes to you, rather than always being caught up in the past, constantly thinking about regrets, or wishing away the ‘now’ for the future. Life is happening right now, and it’s so important to live it and embrace it. Future plans may change, people can disappoint you, expectations can’t always be met, and you simply just can’t change the past. When you’re fully engaged in what’s happening in your world and in your life, right now, you can be more grateful for the little things – and the big things.

 

2. Keep a gratitude journal.

I started keeping a hand-written gratitude journal about seven years ago, and I love it. I cannot stress just how vital this has become to my life and my mindset — writing in a gratitude journal every day has transformed my mentality and my life. I’m really not much of a journaler – or at least not a long-winded journaler. But this is really the perfect way for me to quickly write down ALL that I am thankful for, every single day. I have six absolutely filled gratitude journals, and I write in it every morning when I’m doing my quiet time before the work day begins. I’ve been keeping my gratitude journal for about 7 years now, and it’s astonishing to think of just how many things (little, big and everything in between) I can count that I’ve been grateful for throughout the years… thousands upon thousands. YES! By writing down the things you’re grateful and thankful for (the sunset over the lake last night… that phone call with my wonderful grandma… the people in my life… the client I booked… and on and on!), I firmly believe that I appreciate them more. I’m more aware of everything I’m thankful for throughout the day, and it’s such a good routine to reflect on your day and focus on the good things at the start of each day. You can even be grateful for the bad things, in a sense, because you can learn lessons from them or still find joy amidst the bad. I would highly encourage this routine – it’s a simple action to truly cultivate gratitude in your daily life. I see God’s hand at work in incredible ways when I’m stopping to reflect on and thank Him for all that He’s given me, and I’m also able to see countless prayers answered when I look at past gratitude journals, too.

I love the simplicity and eloquence of this: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.” Yes! I am in no way perfect, but I try each and every day, and in every moment, to be deeply and profoundly grateful for all that I have and all of the blessings that I have so graciously received from the Lord. Without Him, I am nothing. Without his love and his grace and his generosity, I have nothing.

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3. Serve others.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed or thankless when you think of your own troubles or worries, but shifting your focus to others will certainly cultivate gratitude on your life. When you think of others first and when you serve others, you have the right mindset. You think of their needs before yours, you love more selflessly, and, in turn, you can become more thankful for what you do have. I find that when I serve others or volunteer or put others’ needs above mine, I always get more out of it than they do. It’s not about being righteous, but it’s about truly serving others’ needs. You’re also able to see more clearly all that you have been blessed with in your own life, and it can put your own worries, fears, or troubles in perspective. Giving back to and serving others not only enables you to live less selfishly and selflessly, but it makes you even more grateful for all that you already have.

 

4. Comparison is the thief of joy.

It’s so, so true – comparison really is the thief of joy. In this day and age where social media seems to have taken over our lives, comparing yourself to what you see on other peoples’ social media accounts (living a Pinterest-worthy life, Instagram, Facebook, etc) can definitely take your joy and your once-grateful attitude away. Comparing yourself to others and letting that affect your own self-worth with diminish your joy, every time. You live a less grateful life when you’re always wanting more and better and bigger. You diminish all of the things you were once grateful for when you think it’s not enough or not good enough. So much of the time, what people put on social media is their own ‘highlight reel.’ It’s not always real life, and it’s not always true – it’s completely monitored and controlled by that person so that you perceive him or her a specific way. When you let yourself get caught up in comparison, you are letting yourself fall victim to a perpetual, endless cycle where you always need more or need to do more. Stopping and really evaluating your life and all of the things that bring you joy is essential to building up your own self-esteem, focusing on what you already have, and choosing to be truly grateful for your life and what makes up your life.

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5. Give thanks in ALL things.

One of my very, very favorite Bible verses (and a life motto) is from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” The key to this, I think, is to give thanks in ALL things. When you really think about it, that’s one of the most difficult things in the world to do… to give THANKS in ALL things. This includes the big things, the little things, the good things, the awful things, and even the average things. Being truly thankful for all things in your life (though it may seem so impossible to do in some instances, for sure) is tough to do, but it’s absolutely critical to do so. Giving thanks in all things is an act of praise; it’s trusting that there is a reason for whatever it is; it’s giving God the glory for all that He has done for you. I’m a firm believer that these three verses are a daily act of loving God and cultivating gratitude in your life. You can’t do it halfway, or when it’s convenient for you, or when things are great in your life. You must give thanks all the time and for all things!

When I am grateful for what I do have, I no longer need more because I realize that what I have is enough. It’s more than enough. I am giving due praise and thanks when I stop wanting more just to want more. Gratitude is a definite way of praising Him from whom all blessings flow.

“I want to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude, of groundedness, of enough, even while I’m longing for something more. The longing and the gratitude, both. I’m practicing believing that God knows more than I know, that He sees what I can’t, that He’s weaving a future I can’t even imagine from where I sit this morning.”

Shauna Neiquist, Bread + Wine

How do you cultivate gratitude and thankfulness in your life? I’d really love to hear any specific steps you take to be a more thankful and grateful person!

photos by Adelyn Boling, flowers by New Creations Flowers, planning + design by Stephanie Shaul Events

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