by Christine Sine
Sue Duby, a colleague of mine on board the mercy ship M/V Anastasis, once told me that she was most content when her heart was smiling with gratitude, as she focused on the moment with a sense of “God-lenses” peering out to what’s around her, aware of God’s presence. She recounted how a student coped with sadness, grief and rough days by noticing the things in her day that made her smile. She called them joy spots. Sue and her husband Chuck began to call out to each other There’s a joy spot when something made them smile too. Eventually this became a daily practice of naming things they were grateful for. She said: The discipline worked a new muscle, but over time, it became a natural part of our day. We found ourselves not only “naming” thankfulness in the morning, but actually looking for things to add to our list all during the day. Our hearts smiled. We grew expectant.
One day as Sue read Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (NIV) Sue decided that every time she prayed for someone or something, she would stop and name something related to her request that she was truly grateful for – before asking God for anything. A sense of peace and calm followed. Now, she says, the prayer often seems secondary, the need less urgent and the sense of God whispering, “I’ve got it covered” more clear.
I love this practice. It was what encouraged me too, to notice, name and journal about my own joy spots of gratitude. There are lots of ways to do this. Here are some suggestions that you might like to try alone or as part of your family spiritual disciplines:
Make a vow to practice gratitude. Gratitude doesn’t just happen, we have to be intentional about it. Writing out a simple vow like I will count three things I am grateful for today is an effective way to make sure we do indeed practice gratitude.
Name your blessings. Have a moment of thanksgiving each day, preferably with your family or roommates, when everyone shares something they’re thankful for. Keep a gratitude jar on your desk and some small slips of paper. When you encounter a joy spot write it on a piece of paper and add it to the jar. At the end of the week take out the slips of paper and read through the joy spots, reminding yourself of all you have to be grateful for.
This daily tradition can help develop a positive frame of mind and is particularly effective if the day has been challenging and negative. To write down three things we are grateful for helps us recognize the good in our lives and results in a quick and significant shift of attitude.
Be grateful towards those you live with. Gratitude towards people is more powerful than gratitude for things. Telling your spouse, kids and/or room mates why you are grateful for them is an invaluable spiritual exercise. When we tell our loved ones what makes them special to us, their self-esteem (and ours too) is boosted for the right reasons (not because they have the latest smartphone or because they’re dressed fashionably). Plus, our example shows them that gratitude extends well beyond material things and it often sparks moments of joy for all of us.
One fun way to express this is to get everyone in your family, home group or friendship circle to write down something they are grateful for. Print them out on small pieces of paper and then bake them in rolls for a special thanksgiving meal. Crescent rolls are ideal for this as the small pieces of paper can be rolled into the crescents. Each person then has to guess who wrote what is written in their roll.
Shower friends and family with joy spots not stuff. Buying yourself or your kids whatever you or they want, whenever you or they want, dilutes the gratitude impulse and often means we don’t learn to value or respect our possessions. We don’t appreciate each purchase and keep setting our sights on what’s shinier and newer. In this context you can even encourage recycling or reusing items. There are lots of fun ways to do this. A fashion show where you tell stories about your favorite clothing items, or swap with a friend is one possibility.
Alternatively a recycling party where everyone brings items they want to see transformed and reused and shares the story of the item and why they want to reuse it is another. This is something I have long wanted to do with the sweaters I have knitted over the years, many of which I cannot bear to throw out because of the joy filled memories they stir. I am so grateful for these items and the memories they evoke. Sharing their stories with friends and families would, I think not only fill my gratitude cup but would also enable me to let go and willingly repurpose them.
Keep thank-you notes on hand. Sadly, sending handwritten thank-you notes seems to be a dying art. But it’s actually a perfect way to encourage us to express gratitude — and as an added bonus, it can make the recipient’s day. As an author I know how much I appreciate notes from readers that tell me what they enjoyed about my books, but these are rare. Teachers, doctors, helpful librarians, waiters in restaurants, family friends and even neighbors whose gardens we admire all appreciate our grateful thanks. There are loads of opportunities throughout the year for all of us to recognize and thank those who have done something special for us, and it’s a habit that if we start it young, will naturally carry through our life.
I hate drive through windows. I like to park my car and go into the bank or coffee shop just so that I have the opportunity to meet my server face to face and say thank you for their service.
Link your gratitude to thankfulness to God. This was something that impressed me about what Sue and Chuck Duby did. They were very aware that the joy spots they identified represented God’s blessings on their lives and the situations they were concerned about. Spirituality and gratitude go hand in hand. Reading through the gratitude psalms or creating a gratitude prayer of your own is one good way to accomplish this.
Each year just before American Thanksgiving I like to sit down and think about what I am grateful for. A prayer of gratitude often wells up within me. Sometimes these prayers remind me of the contrast between the world as it is and world God is bringing into being, and encourage me to respond to the needs I see around me. At other times, my prayers focus on the many blessings in my life that I need to thank God for. I have shared both of these kinds of prayers in the last few days. Revisiting and reciting prayers like this at regular intervals adds to my list of thanksgivings in special ways.
Sometimes I rewrite the prayer in my journal, highlighting the words that stand out for me, sketching responses and new thanksgivings along the sides. It is an enriching and delightful exercise.
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Give Back. The old saying “it’s better to give than to receive” has stuck around for a reason, the same reason that movies like Pay It Forward, are popular. It really does feel great to help someone else out even when it involves sacrifice on our part. So look for opportunities to help others and get your kids out there doing the same. They can rake leaves for an elderly neighbor, volunteer at a nursing home a few hours a week, help at a local charity shop. You might even make service a family activity. When kids give their time and energy to help others, they’re less likely to take things like health, home and family for granted.
Find the silver lining. It’s human nature to see the glass half-empty from time to time. When you feel like griping at someone look for the joy spot that unveils the brighter side. Write it down on piece of paper and put it in a jar. By the end of the day or the week your jar should be full! Take out the joy spot sightings and read through them.
Gratitude is more about perspective than circumstance and as Sue and Chuck discovered, there is always something to be grateful for. Guided gratitude interventions are one of the techniques used with patients who have suffered traumatic, life changing injuries. As individuals practice and embrace gratitude they are able to adjust, cope and develop positive attitudes. How powerful is that?! Just imagine how different life would be if we all adopted this attitude and passed it on to our children as well.
Savour Surprises. Unexpected or surprising events tend to elicit deeper levels of gratitude. Familiarity does breed contempt where gratitude is concerned so documenting the surprises we are grateful for, like an unexpectedly beautiful sunset or a visit from a friend should be at the top of our list.
Awaken Your Senses. Our appreciation of the world comes through all of our senses. Touch, smell, sight, taste, hearing, movement all wake us up to the incredible miracle of what it means to be alive. Noticing, savoring and giving thanks for these gifts is a powerful practice.
Use Visual Reminders. The main obstacles to gratefulness are forgetfulness and a lack of mindful awareness, so visual reminders can serve as cues to trigger thoughts of gratitude. I think this is one of the reasons Thanksgiving is such a wonderful event. It brings together the people we love and are grateful for. Take photos, share stories, look intently into the eyes of those who gather. Store their faces in your memory and be grateful for them
Yes I know that there are actually 11 tips here but gratitude is such an important practice for us that I just couldn’t stop so go out and be grateful.