The Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude, comes from the latin word gratus which means “pleasing, thankful”. It is a feeling of deep appreciation felt by the recipient of kindness, gifts, help, favors, or other types of generosity, to the giver of said gifts. 

Living a life with gratitude means choosing to focus your time and attention on the things you appreciate, are thankful for and find pleasing. It does not mean that one has to pretend that bad things or difficult things are not happening. It is not a wishy washy ‘kumbaya’ lifestyle. Remember the conversation about neuroplasticity? What you focus on your attention on will form neural pathways that strengthen your thought processes and change the way you view life. Gratitude gives us different perspectives to situations- good or bad and helps us to adjust our attitudes towards those situations. Now let us backtrack and situate this topic with our bigger conversation of changing our thought patterns and metacognition.

Do you see how focusing our attentions on things we are grateful for can help us change both our internal and external narratives? It truly takes effort to focus on the positives of a situation but the benefits are so worth it! I recently read the testimony of a husband who practiced this and ended up reaping a hundred folds of peace and joy in his marriage. He started a journal to document every single day for an entire year one thing about his wife that he appreciated with the commitment not to repeat anything. Initially it was hard but then eventually the fighting and strife got less and less. The process helped him to truly experience the tenderness of every moment with his wife as searched constantly for things to appreciate. So how do we show gratitude?

If you like to journal then a gratitude journal is certainly one way to do this. A gratitude journal is the practice of jotting down, each day, things that we are grateful for, which allow us to become more present and aware. But if you are like me and do not like to pen down your emotions but are constantly ruminating on them, then may I suggest trying Phil 4:8. When you encounter any situation good or bad, before you speak, ask yourself, “Is there anything true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy about that situation?” If so, allow your mind to dwell on that for a few minutes. This metacognitive activity will help to bring the positive things to focus and give you a reason to always be thankful. It takes work… at least initially… until it becomes a habit to be able to acknowledge the negatives but instead, dwell on the positives. You need to work on your ‘gratitude muscle’ because the attitude of gratitude does not come naturally to everyone. It needs to be an intentional and iterative process which will eventually shape our thinking. If you want to think positively, you have to actively look for positive things to think about and that is what gratitude does.

God in His infinite wisdom and design knows in this life we will face adversity, trials, and some very unbearable times along with the good; and He provides us with the tools we need to safeguard our minds and our sanity. In order to not have our thought overrun with negativity, one such tool He puts in our toolbox is gratitude and admonishes us to:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus

1Thessalonians 5:18

So what are you grateful for today? If you cannot think of anything let this scripture set you on the path of gratitude:

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all His kind deeds-He who forgives all your iniquities and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with loving devotion and compassion, who satisfies you with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:2-3 BSB

Yours Truly

Changing our thought patterns

Last week, I ended the post with the fact that it is possible to influence our thought patterns and this week I want to share one of two ways I believe we can do this: with the things we say. Lets start with our anchor scripture:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 

Phil 4:8 NIV

Have you ever heard the saying “watch your thoughts, they become your words…” This connotes a forward linear relationship between thoughts and words but in reality, it is more complex than that. While it is true that your thoughts become your words, research has shown that words inform our thought processes on both a conscious and a subconcious level. We respond to words not only at a conscious level but also at a visceral, autonomic level. Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe how the brain continues to re-invent itself. What we think about actually rewires our brains—for better or worse. Older, unused neural pathways fall away, and new ones, with repetition and focus, are created and words are one way in which we do rewire our brain’s responses. This is true whether we are responding to words spoken by someone else or responding to our own self-talk which what we say to ourselves in our heads. So in as much as your thoughts becomes your words, your words become your thoughts and they become you.

For as he thinks within himself, so he is.

Prov 23:7a NASB

Gary in the Oct/ Nov edition of Focus on the Family gives very sound advice on this topic. He says when it comes to leaning into positive thinking, “talk to yourself more and listen to yourself less.” What do you say to yourself about who you are, how you view the world, what your reactions to situations should be? Your words shape both your internal and external worldview. So a practical way to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy is to surround yourself with words that possess those qualities. Remember, neural pathways are created with repetition and focus and so if we want your thought patterns to be positive then we need to be intentional in speaking positive things to ourselves and surrounding ourselves with positive speech. This is a process known as priming and what priming does is that it triggers the production of oxytocin in the brain which is a “feel good” neurochemical to trigger feelings of wellbeing and happiness. This is one way to ensure that the wellspring of your heart always flows with freshwater (in reference to the question posed in James 3:11-13 when he was talking about being careful what we say).

In summary, if you want to change the way you think, one way to do it is to change the way you speak. There is nothing phony or “new age” about this principle. It is bibical- Solomon told his son, “Above all else, guard your heart; for out of it are the issues of life?” Why? Because one’s thought life controls the rest of his/her life- and the words we speak have the potential to shape our reality (James 3:3-6) as they create neural pathways in our brains which govern how we live and intepret our life experiences. I conclude with a scripture to reflect on:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

Prov 4:23-27 NIV

Join me next week as we talk about another way to change your thought patterns.

Yours Truly