“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
podcast embed

What is gratitude?

We all know gratitude is important. But sometimes thankfulness seems a bit vague.

Is gratitude a feeling we’re supposed to float around in all day? A sentiment just bubbling up from our heart to our head and staying there, providing serene thoughts and a calm demeanor?

Do we just list out what we’re grateful for in a journal, directing our thanksgiving to ourselves? Is that really thanksgiving or just a warm and fuzzy feeling?

No. Gratitude isn’t gratitude unless it is directed at a person. You can’t be grateful to the world in general, to the universe or fate. The universe doesn’t care. It is not a receiver of thanks.

Gratitude is not a mere feeling nor simply positive thoughts. Thankfulness must be expressed for particular things to particular people.

The Creator of the universe is a Person. He can be thanked, and should be. Gratitude overflowing in our hearts needs direction and expression, and He is the proper recipient.

But also on a lower level, in the midst of the day-to-day, we should be expressing gratitude to others if it is to characterize us.

Gratitude is the antidote to the bad stories we tell ourselves about others, about ourselves, and about our work. When you find yourself spiraling into a pity-party, pull out by thanking God for what He is doing in that very situation.

Growing in gratitude is not simply about feeling good feelings or listing things we like, but about paying attention to God’s hand in each situation and walking in faith. Gratitude is a concrete practice of trust and belief in God’s goodness and a practice of kindness to others.

The more we learn to express gratitude to God in each and every situation we are, the more we see His hand at work even in trial and hardship.

The more we express gratitude to the people around us, the more it becomes contagious – a way of being, a way of interacting with one another in our homes.

And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

— Psalm 107:22

Step #1: Brain Dump

By writing down your thoughts, you’ll find that you clear your mind by making your thoughts more concrete because you’ve but them into words. Writing will help you make connections and think creatively, problem-solving and analyzing rather than feeling overwhelmed by it all.

Think about your husband. List as many things as you can in 3 minutes about him and your marriage that you are thankful for.

Think about your kids. List as many things as you can in 3 minutes about them and your family that you are thankful for.

Think about your home. List as many things as you can in 3 minutes about it that you are thankful for.

Gratitude makes us productive.

Why do we do what we do? The reason behind our actions is our motivation. Perhaps we lack motivation because we don’t see the reason why.

Sometimes, the action taken or even result achieved can look the same even though the motivations are opposite. Which is more important? The action, the result, or the motivation?

We might be cleaning our kitchen to impress guests. Our motivation is to look good, to appear other than we are, to have our guests think highly of us. We clean because we are thinking of what others might think or say of us.

We might be cleaning our kitchen to keep up our pride. Our motivation is to be the best housekeeper, to be in control of our home, to have the most beautiful home. We clean because we think highly of ourselves.

We might be cleaning our kitchen out of guilt. Our motivation is to not be unworthy of a kitchen upgrade, to show our mothers that we aren’t poor excuses for homemakers, to demonstrate to our husbands that we do accomplish something during the day. We clean because we feel badly when we don’t.

We might be cleaning our kitchen grudgingly, hating every minute of it. Our motivation is bare necessity, but we are bitter about it. We clean merely because, for one reason or another, we must.

Or, we might be cleaning our kitchen out of gratitude. Our motivation is care for our family, gratefulness for the gift of said kitchen, anticipation for the service yet to be accomplished in it. We clean because we are gladly and cheerfully fulfilling the duty set before us. We clean because God has cleaned us and we are continuing to work that cleansing from our inner being out into our world. We clean because we are people made clean, no longer unclean.

Five different stories, all with the same outcome: a clean kitchen. Yet only one of them is a good story. Only one of them is the story we should be telling with our lives. In only one does the motivation and action work together harmoniously.

The story of a good and grateful life does not go: “She was so grateful that she napped, read, and took life easy.”

Just because we sometimes do our duty with a bad attitude does not mean we should change the duty. It means we should change the attitude as we still perform the duty. With a thankful heart, the job still gets done.

The thanksgiving that God produces in us and that we direct back to Him is not simply a feeling; it is a motivator. Thanksgiving does not merely well up in our hearts and make us feel warm and cozy.

Because God gave, so we give. Because God cleanses, so we do, too. Because God loves, we do as well. It is duty and obedience, but it is also joyful imitation. In Christ, we are free from fear, pride, guilt, and bitterness.

A renewed heart and will produces a thankfulness that works itself out in our lives and affects not only what we do, but also how we do it.

Let us show our gratitude to God for our family by smiling at them, even when they break our dishes and get in our way.

Let us show our gratitude for our homes by taking good care of them.

Let us show our gratitude for our salvation by working it out with prayer and joy.

You will be enriched in every ay to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

— 2 Corinthians 9:11

Step #2: Write a habit statement.

A habit statement is a sentence written with a particular formula to try to catch all 4 parts of a habit: a craving, a cue, an action, and a reward. By composing a sentence, we bring the habit into clearer focus so we can choose them more consistently and actually make them habits. A habit statement is a tool for personal habit change.


Because I want (desired result or direction),
I will (specific action)
when (identify a clear cue or time)
so that _(benefit of action)_.

Brain dump first. 
1) What is it that you want from your gratitude habit? What good will it do you?
2) Choose a specific statement or formulation of gratitude to make it quick and easy to mentally “grab” when you need it. Make it clear and simple.
3) What is the cue you will take for an expression of gratitude? A certain time? A certain routine? A certain feeling? A certain temptation?
4) What is the end reward gratitude will give you? What is a short-term quick reward you can give yourself as a “pat on the back”?

Write a habits statement. Fill in this phrase: “Because I want ___________,”. Then add your main clause: “I will _____________”. Next, add your cue to perform the action: “when ________________________.” Conclude the statement with the reward you will notice as you do your action “so that I ________________________.”

On an index card you keep in a prominent place, copy your habit statement.

Gratitude Habit Statement Examples:

Because I want to love homeschooling, I will pause for a prayer of gratitude for each of my children when I sit down to begin Morning Time so that I can start our day in cheerful fellowship.

Because I want to be calm, I will thank God for the opportunity to practice virtue whenever I feel frustration so that I strengthen my dependence on Him.

Because I want to feel energized and hopeful, I will thank God for the reminder that I am wholly dependent on Him and for the opportunity to trust more fully in His provision whenever I feel exhausted, dejected, or full of regret, so that I can be strengthened by His peace.

Because I want peace and gratefulness, I will thank God after I notice bitterness in my heart, so that I will receive God’s peace.

Because I don’t want to get stuck, I will thank God for the opportunity to repent and learn a better way when I feel frustrated or tempted by acedia so I can do the next thing in joy.

Gratitude is more than a list

The Heidelberg catechism, teaching Protestant orthodoxy since 1563, says that “prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.”

Thankfulness comes up twice in this short answer because it comes up so much more in Scripture. We are told to pray with thankfulness even when we’re making petitions:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The promised peace is for those who request with thanksgiving.

Anxiety and worry are attitudes we need to rid ourselves of. Peace and joy (among others) are the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the attitudes of Christ we are to put on. God’s peace, by the Holy Spirit, guards our hearts, changes our attitudes, when we pray with thanksgiving.

Having peace and joy is not something we must do on our own before we present our requests, but something we ask for with thanksgiving and in the moment – all the moments, the many moments – we need it.

We need more than a list of things we like. Gratitude is always directed to a person, whether another human or to God Himself.

The dictionary definition of both gratitude and thanks confirms it: Thanksgiving must be directed to a person. If it’s not addressed to someone, it isn’t thanks.

The universe does not receive thanks and takes no notice. There is no karma or other impersonal spiritual force recognizing and rewarding your positive vibes.

Thanksgiving is valuable, inspiring, and required only because there is a God who deserves and demands our gratitude.

Ingratitude is disobedience. Gratitude is obedience to our Creator. He also does not accept vague or general positive vibes, but personal prayers that acknowledge Him as our Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.

When we make gratitude lists for ourselves, we are not actually being grateful.

Unless we are directly and intentionally offering thanks to the One who is responsible for what we appreciate, it’s not gratitude and it’s worthless waste of time. Yet, when offered as praise to God, it pleases Him and we, in turn, rejoice the offering and its acceptance.

Moreover, most of the time when we make gratitude lists, we end up simply listing things we like – another clue that it isn’t true thanksgiving. We’re only focusing on ourselves and what we like when our gratitude lists are so shortsighted and shallow. It’s not helpful. It’s not gratitude at all.

Gratitude is the most potent motivator of love and good works, but gratitude isn’t listing things you like.

Gratitude is thanking God for His care and provision in the hard things, in real life, in all circumstances.

And gratitude is not unrelated to our efforts at getting organized.

Gratitude works itself out in our lives. It is demonstrated by action. Gratitude motivates and brings about action.

We will know we are truly thankful as we love and obey our Lord more and more.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

— 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Step #3: Start with a baby step

Thankfulness, according to even the dictionary, is something given to a person. God is a person, to whom we respond in thanksgiving through prayer.

We can write prayers and we can pray while we write lists, but making a gratitude list alone is not being thankful.

It is only when we offer it up in grateful prayer to our good and gracious Lord that it becomes thanksgiving.

Copy 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and place it in a visible spot where you can review it daily.

Take a chore you dislike and find 5 different ways to offer up thanksgiving for it to God.

Choose a hardship or difficulty you are dealing with and thank God for giving it to you for your good, asking Him to do the good work through it all.

Jesus cleans.

I love the encouragement to reframe anything discouraging with gratitude. I have been able to be grateful for all the cleaning that constantly has to be done because it’s a great reminder of the constant, cleansing work of Jesus in my life.
Lauren Johnson,
Simply Convivial Member

No shame.

What has stuck the most is just to start again when you get off track. I used to spend too much time wallowing I’m self-shame each time I failed. Now I see those inevitable failures as opportunities for humility and repentance and gratitude. And they don’t seem to trip me up for nearly as long. I’m able to get back to it much faster and with a lot more joy.
Leah Hartman,
Simply Convivial Member

Step #4: Iterate for progress

Here are some ways you might iterate on choosing gratitude:

Keep a list of 3-5 things you are grateful for – not just things you like – each day. Then pray through that list before praying through a request list.

Make it a point to express gratitude to at least one person in your life each day for something specific.

Copy Colossians 3:15, then choose a song of gratitude to memorize and use often.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. – Colossians 3:15

There is good reason to take this verse as a practical attitude-changing tactic – thankfulness, particularly when put to a melody, banishes our bad attitudes and guards are hearts from its attacks.

Repent. Rejoice. Repeat.

Whenever we feel self-pity creep in, resentment rise, or frustration increase, we can pause, recognizing the self-centeredness of such emotions. We can put them to death by replacing them with gratitude to God.

Related Seminars & Meetups:

Visual Portfolio, Posts & Image Gallery for WordPress