By Martin E. Willoughby, Jr.
Nothing quite makes you appreciate your health like getting sick. My son Trey and I both recently had a bout with a lingering stomach virus. I went from jogging one day to being laid up on the couch the next. All I could think about was the toast my Mom made me when I was a kid when I would get a stomach bug. Nothing tasted so good! It is easy to take things for granted in life. As I have studied the lives of joyous people they have a similar quality of gratitude. While being thankful is common wisdom, I find the practical application to be quite uncommon.
Author A.J. Jacobs, who wrote The Year of Living Biblically, conducted a yearlong experiment to try and live out as faithfully as he could the commandments in the Bible. In total, he tried to follow over 700 commandments from the familiar, such as the Ten Commandments to the unfamiliar—don’t wear clothes of mixed fibers.
As part of this process, many of the rituals he followed involved showing gratitude. He found that by acting with gratitude he actually began to feel internal gratitude. He shared, “I’ve started to look at life differently. When you’re thanking God for every little thing you do—every meal, every time you wake up, every time you take a sip of water—you can’t help but be more thankful for life itself, for the unlikely and miraculous fact that you exist at all.”
Scripture is filled with encouragement to be thankful. Christian author Phillip Yancey noted, “What I see in the Bible, especially in the book of Psalms, which is a book of gratitude for the created world, is a recognition that all good things on Earth are God’s, every good gift is from above. They are good if we recognize where they came from and if we treat them the way the Designer intended them to be treated.”
I remember once listening to a war veteran speak, and for years he read through the Books of Psalms and Proverbs every month. He said that he read Proverbs so he would live with wisdom and Psalms so that he would always keep a spirit of gratitude. Even though his body was mangled from the war, he exuded an overwhelming joy because he had developed the habit of gratitude.
One of the tips I have learned is to wake up each day and to create a ritual of speaking gratitude. What a great way to start your day! There will always be challenges that come along. While you may have three or four “problems” in your day, you will also likely have hundreds of things that go right.
For example, when was the last time that you were thankful you woke up in a house versus on the street? How about the fact that your car started this morning or that you even had a car? After being encouraged to develop a better sense of gratitude, I decided one day to write down as many things that I could think of that I was thankful for—people, events, material items, etc. Whenever I feel down, I can go back to this list and it puts a smile on my face.
My point in sharing these thoughts on gratitude is not to bring guilt or shame. Instead, I believe that each and every day we have an opportunity. We can choose to live as people of thankfulness and appreciation. I find that this does not just automatically happen. Instead it has to be cultivated.
Like Jacobs’ example, if we practice gratitude we will actually become more gracious people. I find that when people live a life of gratitude, then “their cup overflows” and they become a blessing to others in their path. I just hope I don’t get another stomach bug soon to remind me of this important lesson!