I was asked to give a talk in church about cultivating a life of gratitude last week, I figure if I went through all that work I might as well share it with everyone! So I made a written out version of it for you to read : )
I was excited about this topic because if there’s one thing I feel I actually do well, it’s gratitude! My number 1 strength from the VIA character assessment was gratitude. My mom says that it was easy to buy things for me because I’d always take her hand and say thank you afterwards. My sister will tell you that I am an excellent gift receiver! Five stars, would gift to her again. So now you know…you are welcome to give me gifts and it will be a very pleasant experience for both of us! 😉
But it wasn’t always this way. Like all our strengths it’s something I had to develop over time.
When I was a little girl (5 or 6?) my brother gave me a small doll he bought for me from a garage sale. I looked at it and – being somewhat of a perfectionist – the first thing I noticed was that this secondhand doll had a tangled mess of hair. Without thinking, as I am wont to do, I said “her hair is messed up” my brother covered his face and started to cry! It broke my little heart! He was my very best friend, and I had overlooked his sacrifice and thoughtfulness for me!
After that moment, I made a commitment to always be grateful. And 20 years later, that little doll is the only toy I’ve kept with me from my childhood.
But gratitude isn’t only about the gifts you can wrap or receive for a special occasion. There are many gifts we receive every day that are intangible and not as easily seen, that often go unnoticed. I’ve identified 3 ways that have helped me cultivate gratitude throughout my life and I’d like to share those with you!
Gratitude for the Little Things
Sometimes we look for big grand things to be thankful for, but I think there is a lot of power in being grateful for the little things.
There’s this book I started reading (I struggle to finish books!) called Joyful. The author is an interior designer who began to realized certain objects could create a sense of joy. She explains how small things like snowflakes, bubbles, and rainbows can bring us joy everyday if we take time to appreciate them!
I don’t know the exact psychological processes that lead to feeling joy from these small things, but for me I feel like they are little gifts from God. I love the beauty of the earth around me and when I take time to just notice these small things, it brings a smile to my face and a feeling of gratitude. This is one of the main ways I feel God’s love for me.
Elder Uchtdorf said “May I suggest that you reduce the rush and take a little extra time to get to know yourself better. Walk in nature, watch a sunrise, enjoy God’s creations, ponder the truths of the restored gospel, and find out what they mean for you personally. Learn to see yourself as Heavenly Father sees you—as His precious daughter or son with divine potential.”
I love this quote because he’s encouraging us to look at the small things that bring us joy – God’s loving creations, small and simple truths found in the gospel, and the simple fact that God loves you!
So, what does this look like in real life?
This looks like taking a couple moments out of your day to allow yourself to notice and be grateful for tiny things! Like…
- The way cool air feels on your face after a long day of work
- Observing how beautiful sunshine looks coming through the window
- The details that come with the changing seasons
- Or your ability to taste chocolate because it’s awesome!
Doing this everyday will have a huge impact on your life! As my good friend Meeshelle put it: “it’s like a Snapchat filter that makes even a bad hair day look amazing!”
Gratitude for Relationships
My freshman year of college, I took a positive psychology class. One day, my professor gave each of us a craisin (of all things!) to teach us about savoring. First, she had us observe it; we looked at its color, felt its rough little edges, and smelled it. Then we put the craisin in our mouth, did some more observations, and then slowly chewed it, focusing on the texture and flavor. It was the BEST craisin I have ever had! We took our time to appreciate every single last detail, even the details that may have seemed less desirable. We appreciated it exactly for what it was!
I think about this a lot. I think there are some valuable lessons here when it comes to how we look at our relationships with others, especially the most important relationships in our lives.
I’m not saying you need to go around and smell the people you love – although maybe sometimes that’s part of savoring our relationships! All I’m saying is maybe we could stop to observe and think about what our family means to us. Take time to focus on the details of our relationships and appreciate it for what it is, even the rough edges.
So, what does this look like in real life?
- This looks like noticing and expressing gratitude to your spouse for something as simple as washing all the dishes every night.
- Letting yourself observe how wonderful and adorable your spouse is while s/he is doing ordinary things.
- Appreciating all the lessons your parents taught you, both through their mistakes and their wisdom.
- Saving memories of laughing with your brothers and sisters, driving around with the windows rolled down for a late night trip for snacks together.
- It can even be appreciating the increased love felt after resolving a fight and forgiving each other.
Our families and relationships are such a blessing, they deserve our attention to – and gratitude for – the details. When we intentionally savor those we love for who they are, we are cultivating a pattern of gratitude.
Gratitude Through Suffering
The final way to cultivate a life of gratitude is learning to be grateful through suffering, which may seem a bit odd, but I feel it has helped me more than anything else to live a life of gratitude.
There is a marvelous book called Mans Search for Meaning written by Viktor Frankl about his personal, devastating experiences in a concentration camp during the holocaust. He explains how everything was taken away from him, his home, his family, his possessions, his health, his freedom, even his name. But the one thing they could never take away was his ability to choose his attitude in his circumstance, as it is “the last of the human freedoms”. He explains that he could choose to have meaning through his suffering; he could create some good from it instead of letting it be for nothing.
To some degree, we all suffer. If nothing else, we can be grateful for an increase in understanding – in a small way – what Christ went through for us. This can help us be more grateful for His sacrifice and love.
The times in my life that have been particularly difficult have a special place in my heart; in hindsight those were sacred times, they are times I was closest to my Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. I’m grateful for those hard times, because it they help lead me to become who I’m meant to be and deepen my faith in Christ.
So, what does this look like in real life?
- This looks like being at your lowest of lows, desperately praying for help, and receiving comfort and strength, even though it may take a few days or years for your prayers are answered.
- This looks like the joy you experience when you repent and are forgiven because Christ was willing to pay for your sins.
- This looks like seeing a newborn in immense pain, hooked up to tubes and IV’s, and realizing that Christ has suffered even for her pains and knows exactly how she feels, even though she won’t remember it.
- This could even look like hurting your brother’s feelings after criticizing his gift, and turning that guilt and heartbreak into a lesson that will bless you for the rest of your life.
Sometimes the only thing to be grateful for is the fact we never have to suffer alone. Your savior Jesus Christ understands what you’re going through even better than you can understand it.
Above anything else I know that Heavenly Father loves you! He has given us so much! Little treasures hidden in our day, our family – the one we’re given and the one we choose, and a Savior to comfort us, mourn with us, and redeem us. How blessed we are!
I hope that you will not only exercise your gratitude this thanksgiving season, but that you will continually develop it throughout your life in these small and simple ways. ❤️