I’ve always considered myself a glass half empty person. The tendency in my soul is to imagine what can go wrong, obsess over it, and let it ruin my day.
So of course I went and married an eternal optimist. My husband is happy most days and eager for what the day holds. He’s a glass 3/4 full kind of person, and he passed that perky attitude down to my daughter, who is one of the most positive people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. Sometimes irritatingly so.
It’s been a learning curve for sure.
The idea of gratitude as an antidote to depression and anxiety is not new.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past several years, you might not be aware of Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. Hands down, it’s the best thing I’ve read about the essential life-giving power of gratitude.
Ann is a beautiful writer. Her words are lyrical and flowery and it takes a while to get used to her style. But once you do, her words are un-put-downable.
When I first read One Thousand Gifts four years ago, I was at the rock bottom of my war with anxiety and stress. My soul ached for relief, rest, comfort. Desperation was my everyday garment.
Ann’s book opened my eyes and I can honestly say — I’ve never been the same.
Talk about life-changing.
An Antidote for Those Battling Depression
The idea of gratitude as a real, tangible, physical practice was a complete paradigm shift for me.
It doesn’t mean we ignore the hard things. It doesn’t mean we turn all Polly-Anna and pretend that pain doesn’t exist. Ann talks about depression, anxiety, and suffering in her book and on her blog. Pain is real to her and she walks the reader right through it, vulnerably telling of times she almost gave up.
Depression is real, suffering is undeniable, dark days come for us all– usually more than we would like.
But learning to give thanks — even in the midst of the heartache — is what truly saves us for abundant life as opposed to existence.
Mere existence is unbearably painful.
- Bacteria exist.
- One-celled organisms exist.
- Worms exist.
But we are creatures made in the very image of God.
Mere existence is not what God had in mind when he fashioned Adam from the dust and breathed His God-Spirit right into those feeble human lungs.
No, what He gave was Life. Life overflowing. Living spirit-water that quenches our thirst and spills over into every aspect of our being and our surroundings.
It’s what Ann calls living “fully alive.”
And that kind of life just keeps on giving, drenching us even during the dry and desperate days. Indeed, it is often during the hardest days that He offers the greatest gifts.
“Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perserverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life?” –Ann Voskamp
The Spiritual Discipline of Gratitude
Recently I wrote about how my son’s autism has changed me for the better.
I am 100% sincere when I say I wouldn’t take any of it back, hard as it’s been.
- I would not be the person I am, the mom I am, or the artist I am had it not been for that autism diagnosis.
- I would have been spared much pain, but I wouldn’t be writing this blog.
- I wouldn’t understand and know God the way I know Him now.
- I wouldn’t be the recipient of an overabundance of grace that I never dreamed possible.
God was there in it all. He still is.
And there is so much for which to give thanks.
We tend to think we’re grateful people. I know I do. Because on the surface we are.
But the reality of my attitude and my behavior too often betrays me.
And here’s why: gratitude is a spiritual discipline. It does not come naturally. It has to be practiced, learned. Just like playing the piano.
A life lived fully, a life of gratitude, doesn’t just happen because we want it — even if we want it more than anything.
No, a life like that takes practice. Daily, mundane, even-when-we-don’t-feel-like-it practice.
Abundance is available in overflowing measure. It’s ours for the taking. But we have to learn how to receive it.
How to start? Well, with a pen and some paper.
Grab a notebook and start listing things you’re grateful for. Write them down, number them. Count them and make it a goal to get to 1000.
Then keep going.
Because the wonders never cease. And the bushes — everywhere you look — they’re all ablaze.
Stop and notice. Even in the shadow days.
Turn your face toward the Life-Giver, the Sun of our existence, and practice thanking Him until it becomes the habit you put on daily.
Ideas and Resources for Practicing Gratitude:
1. Number God’s gift in a journal.
This is Ann’s suggestion and how she made her big life transformation. And it works.
- One Thousand Gifts iphone app
- My favorite (cheap!) go-to notebooks for journaling
- Ann Voskamp’s Free Tools Library (including printable monthly “Joy Dares”)
2. Start the habit of thanking God daily.
This could be through a short prayer when you wake up or before you go to sleep. It can be before each meal — prayed aloud or silently. Link your prayer to something you do every day — even brushing your teeth — until it becomes automatic.
3. Express thanks to others–for the obvious and not so obvious things.
Actively look for things you can thank others for.
- The stranger who holds the door.
- The soloist at church whose voice moved you.
- The children when they remember to do their chores.
4. Write thank-you notes.
Oh, wow, I wish I was better at this. Definitely not my forte. Still — with the advancement of technology, there is no good reason not to thank others — for the things they do, or for just being who they are.
Emails and texts can work as well these days as written notes. I love the RedStamp app for sending thank you notes over the internet.
5. Teach your children to say thank you. And learn from them.
My Aspie son is not great at expressing thanks when he is among family. But get him out around strangers and he will blow my mind every time. Once at a fast-food chicken restaurant, he made a special trip back to the counter to thank the teenager who was working the cash register for “making this delicious food for us.” A lesson for me to notice and give thanks. . . even in unexpected places.
- 15 Happy Ways to Teach Kids to Be Grateful by Ann Voskamp
- Teaching Kids Gratitude by Ginny Graves for Family Circle Magazine
- Change Your Kids’ Attitude with Gratitude: interview with Greater Good Science Center’s Christine Carter
- Gratitude Journals: A (Free!) Way to Teach Your Kids Appreciation by Kathy Murdock at Everyday Family
And don’t forget to check out Ann Voskamp’s blog and her books!
Giving thanks today for you, dear readers,
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