If you look at all the people you know who seem to be getting the most out of life, chances are they all have one quality in common: Gratitude.

Not what you were expecting? Think about it. Grateful people transcend any background, category, set of life experiences, or outcome. Whatever comes their way, they experience and express a spirit of thanksgiving.

As the holiday season approaches, it’s often common for gratitude to be at the forefront of our minds. We’re grateful for family, friends, health, recent successes, good food, and the generosity of others. At the same time, we can also check off a laundry list of reasons not to be grateful. We are experiencing any number of hardships, and being thankful can seem like a chore. Maybe it even seems dishonest.

In his ancient letter to the Greeks, Paul has some timeless advice for us: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

But how are we to put this radical idea into practice? Are we meant to just put on a happy face? How does it help to ignore the pain, suffering, or shortcomings of real life? 

Gratitude Embraces Reality

Giving thanks will not magically change what’s happening in your life. Chances are, you are dealing with some very real problems. Perhaps your family relationships seem beyond repair. Maybe your finances need a hard reset. It could be that your life is going great, but you cannot help but notice the extreme misfortunes of those you love – or people around the world.

We don’t need to blind ourselves to the reality of our lives. But when we decide to be grateful, we can bring a fresh perspective into our given circumstances, whatever they may be. 

You don’t need to pretend things are good, or wait for them to get better, to be thankful. It is not beyond your control. In other words, gratitude can be more than a reaction. It can be a choice.

Gratitude Expands Our Vision

Gratitude invites the possibility that there is something to be grateful for in every scenario and season. When we limit our rejoicing to the good times, we limit our capacity to see what’s in front of us in all other seasons. When things are average, or normal, or bad, or catastrophic, there seems to be little motivation to give thanks.

But if we begin to look for ways and opportunities to rejoice in the midst of our suffering, we might discover things we can really be glad about!

Think of an area in your life you wouldn’t normally express gratitude. Now ask yourself, what could I be thankful for? Perhaps there’s another area of your life that is going great, which can give you the strength and encouragement you need. Maybe the challenge you’re facing is awakening your awareness of other good things in your life – relationships, talents, opportunities. If nothing is coming to mind, know that you can always turn to your Creator. (Remember, Paul encouraged us to pray continually). Start by thanking Him for giving you life, and see where the conversation goes from there.

If we can be grateful in the worst of circumstances, how much more gratitude might we experience in the best!

Gratitude is Contagious

As human beings, we cannot help but be affected by our environment and the people around us. As we continue to practice gratitude, our outlook shifts, and our problems become opportunities. And as we change our way of being, we can be sure others will notice. Imagine being known as someone who looks for ways to be thankful and show gratitude in all seasons! 

Start increasing your awareness of the people around you. Notice, appreciate, and thank them for the ways they are showing up in the world. Whether the cashier at the grocery store, your boss, or a family member, these little encouragements might help them see you differently, and bring a spirit of gratitude into their own lives – and the lives of others. 

So whether you’re gathering for a celebration, facing a challenge, or unsure where to go next, make a conscious choice to give thanks. It may not change your circumstances, but it will transform your outlook so that you can navigate life with greater wisdom, openness, and love. 

If you’d like to expand your gratitude and awareness today, get started with Unravel: GO, a six-week course to get you on the road to where you need to be!