Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the benefits of being thankful. Growing up in Christian circles, I was familiar with a famous Bible verse that tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. This always sounded nice, but I never really thought it was that realistic. I suppose I can be thankful for small things like red lights because they teach me patience, but what about big things – like my uncle passing away of AIDS last month? Or what about when a friend got divorced, or another friend got fired from their job?
This year I was reintroduced to Victor Frankl. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he talks about the choices man makes when he is faced with bad circumstances. When reflecting on his time in a concentration camp, Frankl wrote:
“Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances? … There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability, suppressed … We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. … Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.”
If what I had before was a puzzle, this was the missing piece. I finally realized that being thankful is a choice. I don’t have to live in reaction to my circumstances, I can choose how I view them. This helped make sense of another confusing passage in the Bible, one which basically says that God is so powerful he can perform some spiritual Jujitsu and flip bad things around, turning them into good.
I now have a new reality:
Everything that happens to me is either objectively good or is a bad thing being turned into good.
Or put another way…
Everything has the potential to be good for me.
Being thankful is a lot easier when you realize that every bad thing carries a blessing with it. It’s almost as if a tragedy is forced to take carry-on-luggage to it’s destination – luggage filled with hope and joy.
There is no thing or experience that’s so negative that some good does not come out of it. The key is to find it and embrace it and to move forward from that truth. It’s almost as if a spy is giving you a secret delivery. If you don’t see it and take it, you don’t get the benefit from it.
Here’s the best thing I’ve found to grow in this new reality:
Start a Gratitude Journal.
Challenge yourself to take a few minutes to write down 5 things you’re thankful for every day. While I saw the benefits within a week, I would commit to writing for 30 days.I recommend writing down in a paper journal. If you don’t have one, do this on your computer or phone with a note-taking app. It’s OK to repeat things from day to day. Maybe you’re really thankful for your job, or for a volunteer opportunity, or a person.Feel free to write about whatever it is more than once.
Read articles (like this one) and take in videos (like these) that help reinforce and motivate you to keep on your habit. I recommend reading one article a day for 7 days to keep it in the forefront of your mind.
I’ve done this practice almost every day for the past 70 days. Here’s an example of of a typical day:
I am thankful for:
- I have a lot of clothes and can buy more as I want
- I have food to eat and can buy food quickly and easily
- Books, and learning from other people in general
- I have a job
- I have a friend named Bruce who edits my articles and is the most interesting man in the world.
- My commute was peaceful and provided good time for reflection
- Being able to talk honestly and openly with friends
- I got to practice cooking and dinner was really good!
- Found a free parking spot downtown
- I’m so thankful for my car!
- I like my co-workers
- Being alive
- Partnering with God and friends to create a beautiful life
My typical day doesn’t involve a lot of hardship, but it does offer some annoyances. I’m often annoyed at my car and am really wanting a newer one, but I make a choice to be thankful for what I do have. When it was snowing, I thanked God for the beauty of the snow. When it was raining and dark, I thanked God for the life-giving water (and the free car wash!). No matter what, I can choose to be thankful and flip any bad thing into good.
I challenge you to write a gratitude journal for 30 days. This quick and simple daily practice can have a profoundly positive impact on your life, and help you to be a voice of hope and grace to the people you care about most.
Post in the comments if you decide to take this challenge!