I think that having an attitude of gratitude is an essential tool in battling thoughts of negativity, pessimism, doubt, worry and anxiety, gloom, angst, and hopelessness in our minds. Here’s why:
Gratitude: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness
I really love the definition of ‘gratitude.’ If you read enough of my blog posts, you’ll quickly realize I’m a bit of a nerd. Well… maybe a lot of a nerd. I like words and I really love knowing their exact definitions. I find that I sometimes use a word and I really like that word, but then sometimes lack the ability to define it and do it justice. I look up the definitions of words a lot. I think the phrase “have an attitude of gratitude”, or something along those lines, is pretty common. I feel like I see it a lot on Pinterest, on wall decor, t-shirts, or coffee mugs. When I use the word ‘gratitude’ it’s usually in place of ‘thankfulness’. However, when I started writing this blog post, I looked up the dictionary definition of gratitude, because I really want to do the word justice.
Part A, “the quality of being thankful;” Yup. Knew that. Got that. Alrighty.
Part B, “readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”.
Having an attitude of gratitude is all about being thankful, but it’s also about being ready to show appreciation and return kindness no matter what your circumstances are. The definition doesn’t say, “the quality of being thankful [when life is going good]; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness [except when you feel like everything in your life is a mess and you have no idea how things could possibly get worse, but yet they are]”. You mean to tell me that’s not in the dictionary? Weird.
I need to ask myself, “Valerie, are you ready to show appreciation and return kindness no matter what your circumstances are? Are you ready to show appreciation and return kindness no matter what kind of mood you’re in? Are you ready to show appreciation and return kindness no matter who has wronged you, hurt your feelings, or been ungrateful towards you? Are you ready to show appreciation and return kindness in all things despite what your circumstances may be?
We live in a crazy world. That is not news to me and I’m guessing it’s not news to you either. A lot of garbage happens on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s easy for us to ignore it, we simply shut off the TV or scroll past the news headlines on our phones. Sometimes it’s not easy to ignore and being oblivious is not an option. As a result of sin, our world that we live in really is quite the mess. As a result of living in a sinful, messy world and being sinful human beings, our lives can be quite a wreck too. Some people seem to have it all together, but I promise you they don’t. No matter how perfect a person may seem, or how put together their life is, they have struggles too. You have struggles. I have struggles. When things get extra struggle-y, it can be hard, seemingly impossible not to lose hope, doubt God’s plan, His goodness, His sovereignty. It can be so hard to not let yourself be pulled into the worrisome thoughts of “what if” and hopelessness. I have been in negative ruts before and it can be really hard to focus on all the good when there seems to be a plethora of straight-up not good. The more you focus on the negative, the doubts, the worry, the hopelessness, the more difficult it is to focus on what is right in front of you that is so very good.
You probably know a person who always needs something to complain about. Maybe you are that person. There is a gal in my life who is constantly focused on the negative and how much her life sucks. Whenever I try to point out something good she has a “yeah, but…” prepared and continues to find something to complain about. She is stuck in a rut of negativity. It’s her focus. She is literally always complaining. Now, you might be comparing yourself and thinking, “I complain sometimes, but I don’t complain all the time.” Well, I complain sometimes too, but I really shouldn’t. I have absolutely nothing to complain about.
Here is a quote from Thomas Watson that really puts things in perspective for me: “Murmuring (complaining) is the rising up of oneself against God. It sets oneself against God as if I am wiser than He.” Am I really in a position to say or act as if I am wiser than the Creator of the universe? Yeah… Definitely not.
God’s Word tells us to give thanks in everything. Every. Thing. Like even our sufferings and trials. Why would God want us to be thankful during the hard times? Because even though my life may be rocky and the waves are crashing in, God is the constant, steady, faithful, unchanging rock upon which I stand. The struggle is indeed very real, but God is indeed very good. God is faithful to never leave me in a lurch. Even if I have nothing but God, I have all that I need, and that indeed is something to be thankful for.
So how can being thankful, having an attitude of gratitude, help you battle negative thoughts?
I have one word. Neuroplasticity.
Neuro: relating to the nerves or nervous system.
Plasticity: the quality of being easily shaped or molded.
You can literally rewire your brain to be more positive. It’s scientific. But, it takes work.
This is why I believe daily affirmations, grounding yourself in the promises of God’s Word, and claiming those promises is so, so important. When you are intentional about being thankful it is a huge shift in mindset. I can choose to sit inside, be sad that it’s raining, be grumpy because my sunny day plans got canceled, OR I can choose to dance in the rain and go puddle jumpin’ in my rain boots! The more you are intentional about being grateful the easier it gets. Over time it’s not so hard to be thankful when things look bleak and it seems your life is in constant torrential downpour.
Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice”. This is coming from Paul who had it pretty rough. He wrote this while in jail and I’m pretty sure his jailer wasn’t giving him 3 square meals a day and making sure he was getting daily exercise.
Rejoice: to be glad; to take delight in. Rejoice in your circumstances, take delight in your life. If you’re reading this I already know a few things about you.
- You can read. That is something you can be glad about. So many people around the world do not have the opportunity to learn to read or receive any sort of education. According to a couple quick Google searches: there are approximately 7.8 billion people on earth and approximately 14% of those people are illiterate. That’s still over a billion people who can’t read.
- You have breath in your lungs. You are alive! Take delight in the fact that God has blessed you with this day. If it’s raining, literally or metaphorically, take delight in the rain. Dance in that rain, girl, because God loves you and you are alive!
- You have an opportunity. Today. In this moment. You have an opportunity to change your mindset, to be intentional about your attitude. Is your attitude going to be one of joyfulness, gladness, and thankfulness, or will your attitude be one of negativity, pessimism, a weight that pulls others under the water with you?
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. I’m not saying it’s going to be immediate. I’m not even saying it’s going to be what you want to do. Sometimes I just want to complain, rant, or vent. I get it. But let me tell you… It is so worth it to change that attitude to one of thankfulness.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”.
Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. That’s what God wants for you. Hopelessness, worry, fear, anxiety, doubt, and gloom do not come from God, and He most certainly does not want you to be overcome by the weight of those feelings.
Many times I’ve been faced with the choice to focus on everything going wrong in my life, or to focus on the good I do have, and I’m sure you have faced that choice too. Swim against the current. Fight. When anxiety and depression are pulling you under, I 100% believe that you can do this. Just be grateful for one thing today, even if it’s as simple as having all ten fingers and toes. Even if you only have 9 fingers, maybe you don’t have any fingers… but you still have blood in your veins. Tomorrow you can work on being thankful for two things.
I woke up one morning just a complete and total grump. I was angry and frustrated with no real reason. I was driving to work and I remember crying out to God, “God, I don’t want to feel this way! I don’t know why I’m feeling this way, but I want to choose joy. Help me to choose joy”. Then I put on “Old Church Choir” by Zach Williams, volume cranked, and I intentionally set myself upon joy and thanksgiving. It was work… I had waves of negativity come crashing in roaring with frustration, and when that happened I again asked God for help. That day was a battle, but I got through it. Even though it was a struggle, this I know: my day would have been much worse had I chosen to give in to the negativity.
Some people may have a hard time with this, and I understand. If you’re struggling to think of things to be thankful for or positive things to dwell on… make a list.
Every time you are able to think of something to be grateful for, something you can delight or rejoice in, write it down. Eventually you will have quite the amazing list. I love having a list of “go to” scriptures. When the waves come, I read them over and over. I pray them. I get on my knees and claim them. I also love just praying to God and thanking Him for what he has blessed me with. Sometimes I pray out my thankfulness, and sometimes I just simply make a list.
Here is my list of what I am rejoicing in today, while social distancing and being in “lockdown”, due to the Corona Virus:
- God loves me and has a plan for my life.
- I have access to clean drinking water.
- There is food in my house.
- I had a hot shower this morning.
- I am safe and healthy.
- The sun is shining.
- There is gas in my car.
- God is in control so I don’t have to be.
- I have hope and confidence in Christ.
- I have been able to go for lots of walks and spend more time outside.
Here is a list of some of my “go to” scriptures:
- Philippians 4:6-7 God gives me peace when I take my worries and problems to Him.
- 1 Peter 5:7 I can take every single one of my cares to God because he cares for me.
- Philippians 4:8 I can ask God to help me think on what is good.
- 1 Corinthians 15:57 I have victory in Christ
- Romans 8: 37-39 I am more than a conqueor through Christ and nothing can separate me from His love.
- Colossians 1:14 Through the blood of Christ I am redeemed and forgiven.
- Romans 5:21 God’s promises are not empty.
I interviewed one of my closest friends, Kyleigh DeMerchant, about this topic. She blows me away with her courage, grit, and love for Jesus.
V: Does having an attitude of gratitude come naturally to you, or is it something you have to be intentional about?
K: Personally, having an attitude of gratitude has been something I have to strive daily to be intentional about. We live in a world that loves to be negative. It is full of complaints. It can be so easy to get caught up in the drama and the noise. It’s easy to go along with your coworkers or friends when they rant or vent. But it is infinitely more satisfying for me to step back from all of that, and thank God for what he’s doing for me. When I stop and intentionally think about it, I have so many things to be grateful for. When I can continually come back to thanking God for His work in my life, His provision, protection, love and faithfulness, it becomes more difficult to find things to be negative about. However, I must intentionally make that choice to do so.
V: When you start your day out thanking God and have an intentional mindset towards gratitude, how does it impact the rest of your day?
K: In the last six months or so, I have begun prayer journaling every morning. As I write out my prayers each morning I begin by thanking God for who He is and what He’s doing. I try to focus just on thankfulness before I bring any requests before Him. I have noticed that if I fail to do this it sets a different tone to my day. I am less positive and more irritable. The little things that pop up throughout the day that are not in my plans, get under my skin more than they do on the days that I begin with gratitude. Sometimes it’s just a subtle difference in my day, however, I would choose to start out with a grateful heart and attitude towards God over skipping it any day. In First Thessalonians 5:16-18, it reminds us to rejoice always, pray constantly and give thanks in everything. Then it tells me that this is God’s will for me. God desires my thanksgiving and prayer. In my experience, it is difficult to have one without the other, however, to have neither can completely disrupt my day.
V: Have you noticed changes in your life or thought process since you started making it a point to thank God in the good and the bad?
K: All the time. That may seem like the short and simple answer, however, honestly, just this one change in my thought process has made a significant difference in my spiritual walk. I worry less and I praise God more. I have found myself taking negative conversations and steering them towards more uplifting ones. I have learned to see that there is good even in the messiest situations I am placed in. This gives me a grateful heart and hope that my God is working, even in the little things.
V: How does being thankful affect your contentment?
K: When I even think of the word contentment I immediately think of Paul who was once Saul. After persecuting Christians and being a zealous Jew he came to Christ. He then suffered in rat-infested, dark, damp prisons and withstood stonings and beatings for the sake of spreading the gospel. Paul has a powerful testimony because in the midst of great hardships he wrote letters such as the Philippians, in which he can say “I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know both how to make do with a little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content- whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me”. (Philippians 4:11-13 HCSB) Paul was able to have this unexplainable contentment in spite of his circumstances because of the strength he had in Christ Jesus. I too can depend on Christ’s strength to keep me content and I can thank God endlessly, for Him blessing me with this contentment. I know that thankfulness was a healthy part of Paul’s prayer diet, because he uses all the verses leading up to this passage to describe how he has the joy of the Lord, and how in the Lord he rejoices. Even in prison, a place where it was dark and lonely and Paul probably had endless time to think, he could dwell on who God is and he could thank God for his character. This allowed Paul to be content. I have begun to apply this concept to my own life as well. If Paul can find things to rejoice about in prison, then no matter where I am or what I am going through I can find a reason to rejoice in my Savior. When I find myself doing this, I notice that I am content.
V: Does having a mindset of gratitude help you fight against worry, anxiety, depression, doubt, etc.?
K: My anxiety crops up when I dwell on all of the things going on in my life, the big decisions I have to make, the responsibilities I have, time and financial commitments I need to keep. These decisions seem to pile up and weigh me down. Although, as I have established a pattern of beginning each day with gratitude, I have learned to dwell on the positive ways God is working in my life more than I think about all of my unanswered questions. Through this, I can be content. When I constantly remind myself how God has provided for my needs, He has helped me to meet deadlines, He has orchestrated my schedule so that everything fits in perfectly, He has mended broken relationships in my past. If He could do these things for me before, how could He not do them for me again and again? Knowing this makes me thankful that my God is all-powerful and abundantly able to enable me to overcome any hurdle I face. I just want to leave you with one more verse, which is a lifeline for me in this area. It is Philippians 4:6 (HCSB): “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”.
Wow, I can’t tell you how much this girl inspires me! I am so thankful and grateful to call her my friend!
God tells us, “Don’t worry about anything.” This is my challenge to you: Pray more, worry less, be thankful, and be intentional with your attitude. You’ve got this.
Valerie loves going on adventures, spending time in nature, and getting lost in the wonders of God’s creation. She works in the 6th grade resource room at the local middle school, co-runs a faith-based youth mentoring program, and is actively involved in Bible camp ministry. Valerie loves mentoring other women, teens and children. She has an obsession with pens and stocking up on beautiful journals. Valerie’s greatest joy is sharing Jesus with others. Her greatest desire is to know Him more deeply and make Him known. You can find her on Instagram @valerieeejayyy