Monday, August 12, 2019

Cultivating an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’

My friend Clarence recently offered a good reminder in a video he posted on Facebook. He said that despite all the anger and angst that seems to pervade society today, we should strive to find something for which we can be grateful.

Even though I sometimes get seduced by the prevailing negativity myself, I wholeheartedly agree. A little known psychological fact – at least one that’s very under-appreciated – is the reality that circumstances and people don’t control our feelings and attitudes. (I hope it’s not racist to say that.)

From the beginning of humanity, there has always been dissatisfaction. Adam and Eve had access to just about everything in the garden of Eden. Were they happy and thankful about that? No, no. They wanted to sample the one tree God placed off limits to them, and the rest as they say, is history.

We can always find reasons for being discontented, or causes for making our blood boil. But what if we, as Clarence suggested, made an intentional effort to think of one thing – just one single thing – that we’re grateful for today? And then just focus on that for a bit. What kind of difference do you think that would make? 

Someone coined the term, having an “attitude of gratitude.” Sounds a bit corny, but it’s something we all should strive to attain – and maintain. Years ago following my open-heart surgery, I began a practice of starting each day by being thankful, simply for waking up that morning. Because not one of us has an iron-clad guarantee that we’ll have tomorrow. So when we awaken to a new day, it’s a gift and reason for being grateful. Maybe even cause for celebration.

Do you have a roof over your head? Be grateful. Did you have something to eat last night? Be grateful. Do you have a job? Be grateful, even if it’s not your dream job. Do you have some form of reliable transportation, even if it might be getting older and doesn’t have all of the fancy gadgetry of newer models? Be grateful. Do you have clothes and don’t have to walk around in public in the nude? Be grateful – and so should we!

We can be grateful if we have a spouse, children, grandchildren, or friends. If we were able to exercise yesterday, whether at a gym, the Y, or even strolling around the mall, we can be grateful. The list could go on, but surely, no matter what our circumstances might be, we all can find one thing for which to be grateful. I’ve seen videos of people who have lost a limb, perhaps in wartime conflict, or folks without limbs at all, and yet somehow they manage to be grateful.

One of the first Bible verses I ever learned says, “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Another translation expresses it, “give thanks in all circumstances….” I’ve read this many times, and even considered the context in which the apostle Paul wrote it. But I’ve never seen anything that qualifies this admonition, nothing that says, “Give thanks except…” or, “Give thanks, but…,” or even, “Give thanks when….”

Another of my favorite passages, Philippians 4:6-7, tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Then it says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The phrase, “the peace of God,” could easily apply to everything and anything that goes on around us in this chaotic, restless world in which we live. 

Do you feel angry? Find some reason for being grateful. Are you discontented? Even if you have to search for it, find one reason to be grateful today. Have you come to the conclusion that now, without any doubt, the world is going to hell in the proverbial handbasket? Shift your focus by finding some reason for being grateful. 

Or as my friend Albert, who has endured more than his share of adversity over the course of his life, often says, “Learn to say ‘Thank you!’ even when you don’t feel thankful.” Who knows? If you make it a point to do this, and I make it a point to do it too, we might just start a trend! And once in a while, a trend turns into a movement. Let’s lead the way!

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