We understand the importance of gratitude. There is little doubt our communities, marriages, and lives would be better if we lived in a consistent state of appreciation for all we have.
At a conceptual level we know our good fortune and believe we should be more grateful in every aspect of life.
But knowing what one should do is not the same as knowing how to do it.
How do we have gratitude? How can we live in a mindset completely opposed to the entitled, ungrateful, whiny, empty way most people live?
The answer is far simpler than we realize.
Grateful people search for the good.
Everyone else finds the bad. (See: The Day I Stole an Airline Ticket to See Jenny)
It doesn’t require a unique gift to find the negative in any situation. No one is perfect so there are problems all around.
Finding the good does require effort. It is rarely on the surface or in the spotlight. Most often the best of things lie hidden underneath an appearance of normalcy or the mundane. Our eyes are easily misdirected from the good by fault or mistake. While negative qualities often leap off a page, the positive attributes of people or circumstances most often are overlooked.
But some can see them. Some have trained their eyes in such a way that they can see good where no one else can.
The chemo-weary cancer patient who understands the kindness of a nurse is a gift and calls attention to it.
The grief-stricken widower who in the midst of sorrow can feel gratitude for the good memories and occasionally smile.
The struggling young couple who finds it difficult to make ends meet but still feels gratitude that they have one another.
Grateful people have a unique ability to find the good which is around them. They do not deny the bad. They do not turn a blind eye to suffering or refuse to speak of sorrow. But in the midst of the negative experiences of life, they actively seek the positive, identify it, celebrate it, and recount it for others to hear.
In a world which is fixated on the bad, what if we had an uncanny ability to find the good?
How would it change:
Marriage. When marriages go bad, individuals often fixate on the negative and blame one another for everything wrong in the relationship. In good marriages, couples experience problems but they see those problems as existing outside the relationship and something they as a couple can attack. Those problems are viewed as minor negatives compared to an overarching climate of good. (See: “Please” and “Thank You” Matter as Much as Sex)
Parenting. While parents are consistently having to spot problems, correct, and discipline children, it is also our job to encourage them. How many times a day do we catch our children doing good and call their attention to it? Which is more powerful, critiquing a child or encouraging her? (See: A Father’s Primary Role)
Community. It’s easy to find the negative in governments, social organizations, and communities, but what if we spent our energy encouraging those who are working for the good? Send a card, write an email, give a gift to someone who is making a positive difference in the lives of others.
Life would be radically different if we lived in a constant state of gratitude, but how do we do so? In the midst of difficult times and with a natural bent toward seeing problems, how do we foster a continual mindset of gratitude?
Consider a drug-sniffing dog. A considerable amount of hours are spent training some dogs to identify drugs based on smell. Most of the training occurs by teaching the dog to focus on a specific smell and then hiding it in various places with many different distractions. Over time, the dog becomes more and more adept at locating what it is looking for.
What if we became the bloodhounds for good? What if we spent a considerable amount of time training our noses to seek the good no matter how hidden it might be or how many distractions were presented? (See: A Simple Way to Better Your Day)
We would begin the process by becoming so familiar with the good that we can recognize even its faintest smell.
The reason most people fail to recognize the good which is hidden in everyday life is because they do not train their minds to look for it. If you regularly see, touch, taste, hear, and smell that which is good, you will be far more likely to identify the good. Like a trainer rubbing a smell in a dog’s nose, we must intentionally rub our noses in the good on a daily basis. If we do not, we will lose our ability to recognize the good things in our lives.
As Paul writes to the church at Philippi, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
As we “think about these things” we will begin to see “these things” more and more. They are all around us. Some see them and some don’t.
Those who see them find gratitude. Those who are blind to them resort to a feeling of entitlement, disappointment, and bitterness.
In order to give thanks, we have to live thanks. As we live it, we give it.