How to Practice Gratitude No Matter What Life Looks Like

Kaitlyn Caffrey • 3 minutes

Most of us know gratitude is a good thing. But when it comes to pinning down how to practice gratitude or what it actually looks like, that can be more difficult. As the holidays have gotten closer, I’ve started wondering: What if gratitude isn’t a warm, fuzzy feeling to tap into every November? What if it’s actually a discipline I can develop daily? What if being grateful is the secret to a truly special time with family this Thanksgiving? 

Gratitude is so much more than an emotion—it’s an action. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the Apostle Paul said, “In everything, give thanks.” So what does making gratitude an action actually look like? I think there are two primary ways you can express gratitude. One is subtle, and one’s more overt. 

Subtle Gratitude: Giving thanks often looks like choosing to see and stay focused on the good in a given situation. Pastor Craig has talked about the idea of cognitive reframing—training your mind not to fixate on the negative and seeing things from a different perspective. It takes time and practice, but learning to see and celebrate little victories is one way to give thanks in day to day life. 

Consider this example. You’re driving your kids to school and the following thought crosses your mind: “My son’s going to be late for practice again because I couldn’t get these kids out the door!” What would it look like if you stopped that line of thinking and went for subtle gratitude instead? “You know what? As goofy and chaotic as life can be, we get to have this time together in the car as a family. That’s pretty great.”

That perspective shift starts as a discipline and, over time, becomes the lens through which you more naturally look at life. And that’s powerful. 

Overt Gratitude: The second method for giving thanks is less about internal perspective and more about external expression. If method number one is “see it,” then method number two is “say it.” Vocalize your gratitude. Train yourself to express more thanks than complaints. You might try writing down ten things you’re thankful for each day. 

Growing up, my family prayed together every night before bed. Each of us kids got to say our prayer requests and what we were thankful for before one of my parents prayed. Very rapidly, sharing what we were thankful for became our favorite part of the night. We would eagerly clamber over each other to say what we were most grateful for that day. And if I didn’t have an answer ready to go, the space before we prayed allowed me to reflect, re-frame, and find something good to say. What I didn’t realize then is that my parents were building habits of gratitude and reflection into our daily rhythm, which has been such a gift as I’ve gotten older.

Simple practices like that one help us live from a place of gratitude, instead of having a bad attitude. 

So how can you start giving thanks? Here are some places to start: 

  1. Give reframing a try. Grab your spouse or a friend and be each other’s accountability partner for the week. Spend some time with them discussing: What are you reframing and how? Another person’s perspective can be immensely helpful in this process. 
  2. Consider trying a new way of expressing gratitude. You could start a gratitude journal, writing thank you notes at the end of the week, or saying what you’re thankful for before bed each night before you go to sleep. 

Remember, giving thanks is something we do, not just an emotion we feel. As we train ourselves to give thanks, we will start to see the fullness of life is on the other side of practicing contentment.