“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10
I recently celebrated my birthday — the first one since I’ve been so active on social media — and I must admit I was surprised and honored by the greetings and well-wishes I received from so many different contexts. I heard from childhood friends, family members, fraternity brothers, work associates, members of my church — even my old scoutmaster! Fantastic!
All this provoked a feeling of genuine gratitude. It is true that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and all the other platforms make it easier than ever to send a kind word, but it is also true that people do not have to do so. Considering how many years have passed since I’ve seen some of these friends, it means a lot that they would even take a moment to wish me well on my birthday.
Call me sentimental
OK, so I like being remembered, but there is something important here beyond a warm feeling. The impulse toward gratitude is something the more optimistic of us have, but the more pessimistic of us can cultivate. Elsewhere we have discussed the link between our thoughts, feelings, and actions — and the benefits you can derive from managing your thoughts. If you want to accomplish more and increase your effectiveness, I recommend starting with gratitude.
What hath God wrought?
For most of us, the expression of gratitude is directed away from ourselves. Certainly, you can express thanks to your friends and colleagues for all they mean to you — I call that horizontal thanks, and it is a Very Good Thing. Even more important is the expression of vertical thanks — gratitude directed toward God for all the gifts and blessings He has entrusted to you.
Blessed to be a blessing
Pastor and author Francis Chan likes to say that it’s no good asking God to bless you just so you can be blessed. When God blesses you, He does it to enable you to be a blessing to others. He recommends praying with a godly end in mind. This is not bargaining with God; instead it’s seeking to understand the eternal motivation beyond our immediate desire and aligning ourselves with it.
For instance, if you have a strong desire to open a restaurant — a noble calling, by the way — it’s worth asking yourself what God could want to accomplish in your opening and operating that restaurant. In this way, you begin to tap into the “why” of that calling. This means there’s more to it than just making money, and more at stake than your reputation. I often find that having a greater context for my difficulties brings out the best in me.
And it gets better
When you maintain a posture of gratitude, you recognize that you are in the service of Someone transcendent — whose benevolence and wisdom do not depend on you at all for their existence. Your hope and your resilience spring from an eternal and inexhaustible reserve that no circumstance can thwart. This is something far greater than happiness: it is Joy.
Yes, you can
When you begin with gratitude, you get joy. When you’re joyful, you receive power that enables you to see through your current challenges and to integrate them and benefit from their lessons once you’re on the other side of them. Never forget that joy is a choice — sometimes a choice we take moment to moment.
Make a list
If this is not part of your experience — either because you don’t believe in God, or your tradition doesn’t teach it — I want to explain that this is not just for the saints. It’s for you, too. But you have to put it to the test. So here’s the deal: It takes 21 days to build a habit, so I want to encourage you to commit for the next 21 days to set aside 15-to-20 minutes a day where you can be alone. In that time alone each day, write, type, or dictate (I advocate writing it by hand, but I don’t want to fight about it) a list of everything you can think of to be thankful for.
Express your thanks for the health you have, for the family you have, for the work you have, for the goals you have — even if they seem as distant and impossible as the dark side of the moon. At the end of the process, take a look back through the lists and consider whether or not your sense of optimism — of hopefulness — has increased. I expect even the more optimistic among us will notice a change.
Get your mind right
My bet is that over the three weeks, you’re going to train your brain to focus on what’s right and not what’s wrong. This will improve your mood, freeing up your imagination and creativity, so you’ll see new solutions or at least new perspectives. All of this will bring renewal into your life. From there, I’d hope you’d acknowledge and thank God for this demonstration of His goodness, but that’s totally up to you.
As you attack your challenges with a renewed mind, remember what American industrialist and innovator Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
Begin with gratitude, choose joy, and watch your effectiveness increase as a result.