I am coming to believe that developing a lifestyle of gratitude and appreciation is far more important than we would normally think, based on how little attention it seems to get. There are so many side-affects of practicing appreciation that it would take a book to explain it all. But there are three highlights:
1. We begin to see the glass as more than half full, even without thinking about it. For so many of us, our default belief is that the glass is 3/4 empty. Or the glass broke a long time ago. As we learn to live in the presence of God and practice focusing on His goodness, our heart begins to believe in hope and love.
2. Our “relational circuits” stay turned on better. There are parts of our brain that help us relate to others with care and consideration, and these circuits can easily get by-passed when we are frustrated or trying to solve a problem. Practicing appreciation actually helps to keep these neurons firing well, so that we can stay relational even when things are going badly for us.
3. Gratitude is a wonderful antidote for entitlement. Now I know none of us wants to admit to feelings of entitlement, but the truth is nearly everyone on this continent struggles with it. We believe there are things that “ought to be” and ways things “should” work out for us. When they don’t, we want to know why the universe is against us. These feelings are not inevitable, they come from our underlying beliefs in how life should work for us. When we begin to grasp the truth that the universe owes us nothing, and that everything we have is a gift, life makes more sense.
The best way I know to practice gratitude intentionally is to end each day with an exercise we call “three-by-five.” Tell someone three things you appreciate in each of five areas: (1) what you appreciate about your day; (2) what you appreciate about the person you are talking to; (3) what you appreciate about God; (4) what you appreciate about yourself; (5) what you believe God appreciates about you, them, or your day.
If you are tired or can’t think of three for each one, do what you honestly can do. Reach down into your heart and see what you are grateful for and express it out loud. My guess is that in a few weeks you will agree with me that gratitude is a powerful force in life.