What the Grateful Do Differently

Someone pulled out in front of me in traffic the other day and I thought… “What a jerk!” That one instant, negative reaction set me on a collision course of similar reactions. The long line at the bank had me wondering why the little old lady in the front couldn’t just go through the drive thru. The hiccup on the webinar made me curse technology. And when I got home, the kids were particularly rambunctious and I wondered why we had so many kids (by the way, I only have three). Instead of being proactive about my intentions and emotions for the day, I reacted to the world around me and allowed it to direct the flow and purpose of my thoughts. In short, I was a poor product of my environment.

The fact is, I let this happen because I forgot to employ one simple tool—gratitude. You know the mental device that gets us out of our own head and allows us to see a world full of blessings, despite set-backs and inconveniences. It’s the thing that reminds us that there is always plenty of good stuff out there.

My ruined day got me thinking. Why did I slip down that rabbit hole of exasperation when I could have done what I normally do—thank God for the blessings I have? What can I do in the future to make sure that doesn’t happen again? Essentially, what do grateful people do differently and how can I take a lesson from their playbook?

I did some research and found that thankful people live better lives because they habitually think and act differently. They purposefully make the mental switch from ungrateful to grateful, regardless of their circumstances. Here are five defining characteristics we can all employ to make sure our days don’t take a turn for the worse!

  1. They Forgive Others and Themselves: How can we accept God’s forgiveness when we won’t forgive? How can we accept God’s infinite Grace and Love, when we can’t possibly pass it on to others? I read it this way once, “God’s forgiveness is as all-enveloping as the air we breathe; but if you won’t forgive, you can’t take a breath, physically or spiritually.” Gratitude and forgiveness are inextricably tied together. They make room for one another and live off each other. When you forgive, you can be grateful for others and when you are grateful for others, you can forgive them.
  2. They Don’t Feel Like They Are Owed: What is the opposite of gratitude? Entitlement. When you feel like you’re owed, you can’t see around your rights to your blessings. We are not entitled or owed anything, rather we owe God for our lives and our blessings.
  3. They Are Proactive, Not Reactive: Happy people are not grateful. Rather, grateful people are happy. Every moment is an opportunity and while we can’t be grateful for everything, we can be grateful in every given moment for something.
  4. They Have Hope: Gratitude builds hope. Have you noticed that people who are grateful for God’s gifts in their lives are often the most hopeful about their future? They are not focused on their circumstances, rather on the possibilities of each moment.
  5. They Love to Learn: It makes no sense to condemn or ignore an important life lesson. When you’re grateful, you take the good out of the most challenging life lessons.

Being grateful doesn’t eliminate challenges, or worse, tragedies from happening, but it can certainly change how you react to them. I allowed one innocent traffic infringement stick to me the rest of the day. Had I been grateful for the sun streaming in my window, my beautiful wife sitting next to me drinking her coffee, the vibrant reds and yellows of the autumn leaves, and the sermon on the radio, I would have forgiven the minor transgression and moved on with the rest of my day.

If you also struggle with gratitude, I encourage you to make the purposeful switch in your thought and action programming. Proverbs 4:23 says: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

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