Can Being Grateful Really Change Your Life?

Don’t you just love this time of year!? Spring has a special place in this grateful heart. Our days get longer and our gardens greener. The chilly air warms and things that looked dead start to come alive again. It’s like the freshness of the new season brings new air into our lungs and encourages us to breathe deeper. But more than that, I love how embracing a new season can change our lives.

Two years ago I walked away from a women’s conference at my church with a spring in my step and more than a few mind-shifting revelations. But when the stage had cleared and all the visitors had left and I was back at home with my Jesus, what was left in my hands was the greatest gift of all. It was the gift of a new season of gratitude, which would bring heart-shifting, life-giving change.

On the recommendation of a conference speaker who had read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I picked up a hefty black journal with one blank white page for every day of the year. “365 Heart Set on Pilgrimage” it said on it. I said I would write in it. I didn’t catch the name of Voskamp’s book at the time so I didn’t buy it, but I did catch what the speaker had said about her story: “Writing down what you are grateful for will change your life.”

Now, I’m a writer. I write and it’s a gift and I like how it helps to arrange my thoughts and communicate ideas, but it doesn’t usually change my life. Maybe you’re as skeptical as I was. But I was also curious, so I decided it was worth a try. If you are too, here’s what to do (and what happened):

Day 1: Sit down with a pen and paper, and list as many things as you can think of (as specifically as you can) that you are (or can be) thankful for today. List everything that makes you grateful, full stop.

Day 2: Repeat what you did on Day 1.

Day 3-365: Repeat, as above.

That’s it. Just put pen to paper every day, with specific details about things that you can say “thank you” for. Then just wait. You will first hear yourself saying things that surprise you, like how glad you are something is or was or will be. Then you will hear yourself thinking things that surprise you, like how excited, calm, or happy you are. Then you will find yourself doing things that surprise you, like being the positive voice or the quiet listener, or the helping hand.

One Thousand Gifts was a great read by the way, and to this day I still make time to write down Every. Single. Thing. I am thankful for. But I’d like to give the real credit here to Jesus, who set the gratitude-is-the-attitude example for us by giving thanks to God before he asked for anything from Him or performed miracles (John 6:11, 11:41). We live in a snappy culture of #yourewelcome and #sorrynotsorry, a sort of let’s-wait-and-see-if-its-worth-it-for-me kind of time. But what if we shifted to a mindset of gratitude before we could see the changes it might bring? What if we started simple, like “I’m grateful for…I’m thankful for the opportunity to…I acknowledge His favor in…I am inspired by…I’m so glad I was able to…I am happy because…I know peace because…” even if we couldn’t yet see the way it would benefit us? These are just some simple phrases I use in my journey toward being more grateful. You’ll know when it’s truly shifting your mindset when you realize you’re grateful for being grateful, haha!

I don’t know exactly how a gratitude practice will change your life, but I do know that it will. One day at a time for the last two years, I diligently transcribed the blessings and the beauty and the rebuilding that was happening in my life. I purposely paid attention to what was good, and I was floored by how such a simple switch could improve my thoughts, my relationships, my emotions, and my business. If it can take a burnt-out, angry, sharp, competitive, complaining ex-banker mind like mine and turn it into the energetic, joyful, gentle, flexible creative mind it is today, it’s probably worth a try.

I believe this is because when we focus on the light, we cannot focus on the dark. When Spring arrives, Winter departs. Our minds are like the seasons – they can conjure up a wide variety of experiences and feelings, but not all at once. In short, we can think about anything we want to think about. But we cannot think about everything. We simply don’t have the capacity to conjure up grumbling, complaining, criticizing, and worrisome thoughts at the same time as we articulate joyful, peaceful, satisfied, grateful, and gracious thoughts. The choice is yours, starting today; will you embrace a new season of gratitude or hold on to the old one of grumbling?

Do you keep a gratitude journal? Challenge yourself to keep one for 2 weeks and watch how your spirit changes.

Photography: Aricka Lewis

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