To reference an old adage, those who have a spirit of thankfulness usually see their life glass as half full, while those who struggle to find the positive in life and express gratefulness often see it as half empty. Regardless of which glass you drink from each day, there are ways to cultivate a thankful heart, which, in turn, can lead to a host of positive benefits1, such as better health, higher productivity, healthier relationships, more satisfaction with life, relief from stress, and defense against depression.
As you gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, it’s a good time to conduct a personal thankfulness inventory, learn ways to increase your thankfulness quotient, and practice new methods of expressing gratefulness to those in your life.
What Does it Mean to Be Thankful?
Being thankful involves feeling and expressing appreciation for people and things in your life. When asked, “What are your thankful for?” it’s easy to offer up cliché answers like, “My health,” or “My family.” But to develop a lifestyle of gratitude, you will need to slow down and be intentional to look at all aspects of your life – work, home, play, community, church, school, neighborhood, family - because when you really take stock, there is so much to be grateful for. It might be specific people in your life, a job to pay the bills, a good customer service experience, a free country, a car to get around, food to eat, a place to live, fresh air to breath, a kind word you received, a warm coat, a cozy bed, hot water, a new day – the possibilities are endless.
Cultivating a Grateful Heart
Taking a thankfulness inventory is a good place to start when cultivating a grateful heart, but be sure to write down the things you identified to see just how long your list is. Then, make a habit of thankfulness by adding to it every time you think of something new. You can even take five minutes out of every day to pinpoint things you are grateful for and record them in your thankfulness journal.
Another way to cultivate a grateful heart is to counteract every complaint with something you can be thankful for. Did you have a lousy day at work? Think of a co-worker that you appreciate, a project you enjoyed, or the simple fact that you have a job that sustains you. Are you struggling with sickness? Find the little things that bring you joy – sunshine, good memories, a phone call from a friend, a good book, a kind nurse. Did your car break down? Be thankful for the person who picked you up and the mechanic who can fix it. Looking for the silver linings in the difficulties of life can change your perspective so you begin to see your life glass as half full.
You can also cultivate a grateful heart by looking around at others who are less fortunate than you are. While there are certainly people who have life better than you do, there is always someone who is worse off, as well. Whether it’s those who live in constant poverty, have no clean water supply, are homeless, live under communism, are abused, are unemployed, or experience myriad other disadvantages, you can be thankful that your situation is better on many levels.
How to Show Gratitude
Even though thankfulness is a noun, its meaning encompasses much more than simply identifying the things you are thankful for. Thankfulness also involves action. So, how do you show gratitude?
- Verbalize It – Keeping your thankful thoughts to yourself is like buying a present for someone but never giving it. If you are generous with your genuine words of appreciation, you’ll be surprised by how good it makes you feel and how well it is received. And try to go beyond the simple “thank you.” Instead, be specific about what they’ve done that you’re thankful for. For example, rather than simply thanking a veteran for his or her service, tell them how much it means to you that they put their life on the line to defend our freedom. Take time to engage with them. Or tell your partner something concrete that you appreciate about them and how it makes you feel. Or thank God for His beautiful creation while you’re enjoying it. That’s gratitude in action, and it builds goodwill.
• Show It – To go even farther, try doing something to show your gratitude. Send a card for no other reason than to express your appreciation for an everyday thing someone does to make your life better. This is especially impactful for those who often go unrecognized, such as the custodian, the postman, the bank clerk, the grocery sacker, the garbage collector, your state representative, even your boss. Look around at all those who serve you in various ways – you’ll have plenty of people to thank! Other ways to show your gratitude can include buying a gift card, paying for a coffee, writing a letter of recognition to someone’s boss, leaving a good review, leaving an extra tip with an encouraging note, or giving a plate of cookies.
• Serve – If you identified others who struggle with life issues that you don’t, your thankfulness quotient will rise significantly by reaching out to serve one or more of them in some way. You might volunteer at a homeless shelter, provide a Thanksgiving meal to a foster family, give to an organization that provides clean water in third world countries, or visit a homebound senior. There is no shortage of those in need, so put the gratitude you feel for your blessed life into action by serving someone less fortunate.
Quotes on Gratitude
Need some inspiration to help you become more grateful? Throughout history, thankfulness has been acknowledged as a basic human emotion needed to feed our wellbeing and make society a better place. Here are a few quotes to spur your “attitude of gratitude.”
• “Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.” ― Oprah Winfrey
• “Every once in a while, God allows you to stub your toe as a kind reminder to be grateful for the miraculous body attached to it.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich
• “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero
• “Be grateful for what you have and stop complaining - it bores everybody else, does you no good, and doesn't solve any problems.” ― Zig Ziglar
• “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” ― John Milton
• “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19-20, NIV) ― The Apostle Paul
• “Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson
• “Reflect upon your present blessings—of which every man has many—not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” — Charles Dickens
• “Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: It must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” — William Faulkner
• “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” — Voltaire
• “When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree.” — Vietnamese Proverb
As you gather to celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving, resolve to make it more than a reason to take a day off, eat some great food, and watch a ballgame. Instead, why not emulate those who gave us the day – the Pilgrims? Though they could easily have focused on all they had lost (and it was a lot!), they decided to offer thanks for all the blessings that made it possible for them to come together in that place - the blessings of life, a new beginning, a bountiful harvest, new friendships, a bright future, family, and a faithful God. Our nation was begun on the foundation of thankfulness; our lives can likewise hold great promise when grounded in a grateful heart.