At the season of Thanksgiving, the trite advice is “be thankful.” For most people, it is a hazy phrase.
The remedy for most first-world maladies is simple. Practice gratitude.

What Gratitude Does for Us?

“The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis.
Think of all the benefits of a simple habit that most overlook?

How Do You “Be Thankful”?

We must look for good because we are being fed the bad. Gratitude is not normal. Listen to a 2-year-old…whine because of what they don’t have rather than grateful for what they have. Watch the evening news or peruse social media (or almost any media outlet) and you walk into a black cave of despair.
Too many times we have reduced gratitude to either an emotion or an attitude. When our hearts are full, we are thankful. When our lives are good, we are thankful.
Can you be thankful when life is not good or when hearts get emptied of any remnant of joy?
It was in the depths of a Roman prison, Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Philippi. He could only see soldiers, feel manacles, and write letters.
That’s not much of an environment to bread “thankfulness.” It’s a recipe for bleakness and despair.
Yet, he wrote them these words,
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
It is never about “being thankful” but about “giving thanks. In short, thankful people practice gratitude.
How do we transform gratitude from feeling to something that changes our lives?
One of my aims for 2018 was to “practice gratitude.” That can take many forms, but for me it was in a daily journal.
Each morning I spend time thinking, planning, reading, and reflecting. In my journal, I spend a few minutes completing the sentence, “I am thankful for…”
I read advice from author Andy Andrews. He says if you want your day to go right, list 10 things for which you are thankful. Be specific. Be trivial (such as the next breath).
I make my list but add to the end a why. For me, I need to connect not just a blessing but the reason I am thankful.
It works for me but I realize others have their own way.

Finding Your Blessings

It sounds easy. Think of the good things. I realized that the low-hanging fruit was easy. The true practice of gratitude forced me to take a pickax to my life and dig out things.

Find Good In Difficulty.

We focus on the microscopic problems we don’t like and miss all the things we do like. Usually, one percent of our lives are irritations. They are like a stone in our shoe. They yank our chains.
When you concentrate on what is missing, you miss what is present. In traffic, you have a car. In summer, most of us have air conditioning.
What good can you find in this situation? Some terrible circumstances bring family and friends together. Even an illness provides time to reflect.
Ask, “what’s good about this that I can thank God for?”

Use Positive Comparison

I have been blessed to be dropped into the poverty of Nicaragua for the last several years. I witness people eeking out a daily survival on pennies a day while living in salvaged tin huts. Many step into a street flowing with sewer water.
I come back every year (and it lingers) with the sense of how blessed I am. It’s the little things like hot water, clean sheets, and a good home. I don’t compare up, I compare down.
Someone is always in worse circumstances than you. Why has God decided to bless you with the good? Give thanks.

Focus on People

We have a regular list of people in our lives for which we give thanks. My family is easy.
I have to look harder.
Who has shaped my life? What individuals have molded skills, attitudes, and appreciations?
Many people enter our lives and disappear like a vapor but leave their mark. Who are they?
Give thanks.
This is to say, “practice gratitude.” Don’t be thankful. That’s cheap and easy. Instead, every day spend time finishing the sentence, “I am thankful for.”
Happy Thanksgiving, 2018.