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What does a healthy attitude of gratitude look like? In Episode 61 of Faithful on the Clock, you’ll get a scriptural portrait of what it looks like to be thankful, plus an explanation of how that connects to modern neuroscientific thinking on positivity.
[00:37] - A happy Thanksgiving wish and explanation of why we’re talking about gratitude
[01:11] - An attitude of gratitude does NOT mean you’ll feel all flowers and roses all the time. Believing this myth puts people at risk for minimizing or becoming impatient for relief.
[02:19] - Neuroscience says the more you look for something, the more you’ll start to find it. This means that establishing a habit of looking for the good will make it easier for you to see the positive things and be more grateful over time. But it’s not an overnight process. Healthy gratitude requires you to learn to let your limbic brain and cortex together, using your cognitive thoughts even when you don’t feel good.
[04:26] - Healthy gratitude is a journey. It’s OK to be grateful even through suffering.
[05:06] - The story of Job is probably the best example of a grateful heart through times of trouble.
[05:56] - The stories of Daniel, Jonah, and Jesus feeding the 5,000 all show gratitude in a healthy way. Jesus’ story also shows that you can be grateful in anticipation of what God will do, having faith that He will do it.
[06:49] - You don’t have to be in a good place to be grateful. Don’t minimize. Just use your cortex and remember you always have God and therefore always have something to be thankful for.
[07:25] - One strategy for developing an attitude of gratitude is to get into the Word every day. Focus on all the positive things around God and on His character.
[08:02] - A second strategy for developing an attitude of gratitude is to find small things to acknowledge in your everyday life. We often talk about gratitude in the context of big accomplishments, but the small things communicate a lot about who we are. It’s OK to validate those things and that God gave them to us. Recognize God as the source along the way.
[10:20] - A third strategy for developing an attitude of gratitude is to find supportive, faithful people who you can talk to. Let them offer you guidance and support.
[11:17] - Don’t confuse an attitude of gratitude with toxic positivity and make it something you try to do out of a sense of obligation. Just speak truth and be open, even if you are having difficulties in your life, because God knows about the difficulties anyway. It’s the darkest times that we can be the most grateful that God is still beside us.
Being grateful doesn’t necessarily mean you feel flowers and roses. We can get the message that gratitude magically will lead to good feelings or success, but that’s not always the case.
Neuroscientifically, the more you look for good things, the more you will see them. But it takes time for the brain to get into that habit.
It’s OK to have moments where you still feel hurt and yet still express gratitude. They can happen at the same time.
The stories of Job, Daniel, and Jesus feeding the 5,000 all show that you can be thankful even in tough circumstances.
Although you shouldn’t minimize what’s painful, it’s important to remember that you always have God and can be grateful for Him.
Three critical ways to improve an attitude of gratitude include getting into the Word, finding small, everyday things that are positive (while focusing on God as the source), and finding supportive people who can give you perspective.
An attitude of gratitude is NOT toxic positivity. It’s not just one more task to check off. Don’t let it be an obligation, but rather, allow yourself to be grateful even in your darkest moments, recognizing that God is always with you.
Schedule some time each day when you can read your Bible and reflect on all of the good things related to God.
Use a notebook or a phone app to jot down small things you are grateful for throughout the day. Doing this ensures you can reflect in the moment and that you don’t forget the good things by the end of the day.
Contact one or two people who can help you on your gratefulness journey. Explain your goal of being more thankful and ask if they can give you support, accountability, and feedback.
What’s coming up next:
Look through past headlines and you’ll see that some of the leaders you thought were moral are getting wrapped in scandals. What should we do when this happens? Episode 62 discusses what it means for our own leadership when our role models fail.
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Hi-dee ho, listeners. This is Faithful on the Clock, the podcast where we plant all the seeds in the packet to get your faith and work aligned. Thanks for joining me for another episode, I’m your host, Wanda Thibodeaux, and today we’re talking about gratitude. Here in the United States, we’ve got the Thanksgiving holiday in just a few days, so I want to just focus on what healthy gratitude is and why it is so important for your success. Buckle up, because I’m drivin’ out of the station right now.
So for those of you in the United States who are listening, I just wanna wish everybody a fantastic Thanksgiving. And I hope everybody is taking some time to just relax and be with family–that is so important. And for those of you not in the United States, I just wanna clarify, you know, Thanksgiving, it ties to the founding of our country, yeah, but the heart of it is this attitude of gratitude, where you just pause and see how much you have to be thankful for. And that’s something I think we all can do that has benefits, so that’s why we’re talkin’ about it on the show.
Now, the main thing I wanna communicate today is, I wanna make sure that you understand that an attitude of gratitude doesn’t mean you’re gonna feel all flowers and roses. Because I think that’s the portrayal we get of it a lot from the media or other professionals or whatever. You know, we talk about it like if you’re just grateful, then there’s all this happiness that’s just gonna magically materialize. Like, we talk about it as though if we can just find something to say thanks for, all of our problems will disappear and everything will be great. And then I think that’s where it gets kind of dangerous, because then if we complain at all, people can get really dismissive of what we’re going through. They can minimize it and be like, “Oh, well, you just need to be positive. You just need to be grateful.” And at the same time, on our end, we can get impatient and think, “Well, I focused on the good stuff, why don’t I feel better?”
And so here’s what I want you to understand. From a science level, what you gotta understand is, the more you look for something, the more your brain gets trained to find it. So what that means is, if you’re looking for crap, that’s what you’re gonna see. You’re gonna find all the negative stuff. So by intentionally looking for things to be grateful for, you’re gonna eventually realize, that there is stuff that balances out what’s negative. And that helps you keep some healthy perspective about everything that’s going on. But the thing is, this is not an overnight process. Laying down those new neurological pathways, retraining your thinking to take different routes or to see differently, that’s not an automatic deal. And so what you have to see is, a healthy attitude of gratitude is one where your limbic brain and your cortex start working together. Your limbic brain, that’s where all your emotions are. And your cortex, that’s where you rationalize stuff. So the limbic brain, that’s gonna fire fast. You’re gonna get that feeling like, “Oh, my gosh, everything sucks. I can’t possibly see anything good here.” But then you have to make a choice and think even as that feeling is going on. You have to say, “OK, I feel like crud. But the feeling is just a feeling. Let’s slow down. Let’s look and just on a cognitive level, let’s just acknowledge things more objectively here.” And what you’ll find is, at first, that’s so hard to do. That negative feeling, it’s so strong, and your inner critic, all these negative voices or memories, they’re gonna try and keep that feeling going so you keep your guard up. Your brain thinks that protects you. But over time, the more you practice, the more easily you can pull out the logic that can keep those feelings in check. And so you start using your logic to intentionally look for better things. And you see some good and that feels good. And your brain likes that. Your reward systems get activated. So you start feeling better about doing it again and again, and before you know it, you’re looking at the positive in a much more sincere way.
And so I want you to understand that cultivating sincere gratitude, that’s a journey. And it is absolutely normal and OK if you have moments, especially in the beginning, where you might wonder what the point even is. But if you look back at scripture, people who followed God, they understood that you can be grateful even through suffering. They understood that you can acknowledge hurt and disappointment even as you acknowledge God and everything He can do or has in store for you. And that is so much healthier, I think, because it stops you from stuffing things down or denying what’s wrong.
So where can we see this in the Bible? I think the most obvious example is in Job. If you read that book of the Bible, Job, he was a guy who lost everything. And so if you read chapter 23 especially, he’s just heartbroken. He’s feeling like God isn’t with him anymore. And he basically says, you know, ‘Before I had all these things, and now look at me.” And yet, what does he do? He praises God, because he knows that even when everything else is gone, He can acknowledge and be grateful for God and everything God stands for. Chapter 42, he says, “I know that you can do all things.” That was Job getting out of his feelings and turning to his thinking brain, leaning on what he knew about God to be true.
But there are other examples of this, as well. Daniel 6, you have the story where Daniel praised God even as he got thrown into the lion’s den. Jonah 1 and 2, you see where Jonah prayed even after getting swallowed up by a whale. And then in Matthew 14, there’s the story where Jesus feeds the 5,000 followers with just a few pieces of food. And I wanna point out verse 19 specifically and the order of the actions of Jesus. Because what you see is, Jesus gave thanks before He had all the food He’d need to feed everybody. He thanked God before God had even come through, because He trusted that God would come through.
And so that’s really the heart of this. You don’t have to be in a good place to be grateful. You don’t have to have a million things to write in your journal. I mean, God knows that there are professionals who are trying to start businesses as they live out of their car. There are people who are trying to keep their companies together as hurricanes take out their warehouses or as they lose family members to the pandemic. And I do not want you to minimize any of that. Please do not do that. But I do want you to turn your brain on and remember that God is who He is no matter what you’re feeling. You just need to understand that you always have Him, and that because of that, you’re never without something to give gratitude for.
Now, all that said, remember, neuroscience, we want to build a habit over time of seeing the good, right? So how do we do that? So the first thing is, remember, if all you’ve got is God, OK. Well, then make a habit to get into the Word. Remind yourself over and over again of all those times God did amazing things. Those are all positive things where you can focus on the character God has and center yourself around the big picture. Every morning, maybe just take 10 minutes, pick a random part of your Bible and just read. See everything God does.
Then the next thing I want you to do is just find something little to acknowledge in your everyday life. I mean, I don’t care if it’s the fact you found a purple toothbrush at the store instead of a blue one. Because it’s not the size of the stuff, it’s just whether it’s good or not. We see that in Philippians 4:8-9. That doesn’t say contemplate just the stuff of magnitude. It says we should think about whatever is pure, the good, the lovely, all of the things that are praiseworthy. And within that, keep in mind, what people see as lovely or of value, that’s kind of subjective, right? Like, if you like listening to Justin Bieber, you’re probably not gonna get too excited about my Bach, collection. You know what I mean? And I stress that because so often in the business world, we talk about gratitude in hindsight of all these amazing accomplishments, or we think like there’s this checklist of things that, quote, “should” matter. Like, you hear the CEO talk about how they’re grateful for everybody who mentored them for years, or that they were able to do years of education and whatnot. It’s like an Emmy speech, right? But little things, those say a lot about who we are, too. Like, OK, why does the blue toothbrush matter to you? So there’s stuff hidden in there about how God made us, about what we want and hope for. And so acknowledging those little things, being grateful for them, that’s not silly. That’s validating yourself and it’s validating the God who gave those things to you. And within that, practice recognizing God as the source. You know, I think the natural tendency is to say, “Oh, I’m so grateful that I have…” And that is different than saying, “I’m so grateful that God…” Right? Because the first way, I think there’s a lot of room to have our ego step in and trick us into thinking that we have what we have because of our own efforts or skills. But if we rephrase it so that God is at the front, then we remember that everything we have is a gift. And if you remember that God is providing those gifts to you, you also can focus on how much He loves you, that He’s going to provide for you right down to that purple toothbrush.
And then finally, as you’re trying to consider God and find these little points to be thankful for, just find some people who are faithful who you can talk to. And I wanna stress here that these have to be people who really are grounded and who can see your reality and the reality of God. You don’t want people like Job’s buddies. You know, they basically accused Job of being at fault. But wise friends, empathetic friends who are in the Spirit, they’re gonna help you see things that maybe you’d pass over otherwise. They’re gonna tap their experience for you and show you options, and they’re gonna be people who can get you into worship even when you feel like skipping it. That is so important to have those models and that system of support behind you. It’s so easy when you don’t have that feedback to talk yourself out of the good stuff, but they can make sure you stay on the right side of the fence.
So to just wrap up all of this, the message is, don’t confuse fostering an attitude of gratitude with toxic positivity. Don’t just pull out your gratitude journal because it’s one more thing on the to-do list and all the gurus tell you it connects to reaching the top. Because if you do that, then you’re working out of obligation, not true thanks. You’re just trying to force something because you have an expectation that it’ll get you something, rather than stepping back and realizing that regardless of how you feel, there’s good stuff to look for. And if God knows all of your heart anyway, there really isn’t any point in trying to pretend like everything is all beautiful when you and God both know that it’s not. As long as you speak truth the way Job did, you can absolutely give God your hurt and your thanks at the same time. He wants you to do that, to be open and honest, and I promise you, there’s no ugliness or sin or circumstance that can surprise Him, OK? He’s seen it all. So when you have a bad day at the office or your career isn’t what you thought it’d be, just let that be a comfort and guide for you, because I personally think that it’s in our darkest moments that we ought to be the most grateful that God is right beside us.
So let’s close out the show with some prayer together. Just bow your head wherever you are and we’ll pray.
God, we know that it’s easy to give thanks when everything is comfortable or we have a lot going for us. But Lord, the real test of faith comes in having an attitude of thanks even when our hearts are broken, and I thank you now, Lord, that you gave us those stories of Job and Daniel so that we have examples of how to worship no matter what’s happening or how we might feel. And for all of those listening, I just pray that You’ll open their eyes even to those purple toothbrushes in their lives, and that they can take strength in You and good friends. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
I have reached the end one more time, everybody. And as I wrap up, I just want to say how grateful I am that God gave me the opportunity to do this show for you. You know, it’s not always easy, I ain’t gonna lie. But I hope that, whether you’ve heard just this show or every episode, this show is something you can be thankful for, and that it’s something positive in your life. And I invite you to join me for the next chat, which is gonna be all about what to do when the moral leaders around you end up failing. There’s a lot to unpack in that one, and I think it’s one we need to talk about so you have some direction. I will see you for that in two weeks, everybody. Stay safe and be blessed!
Faithful on the Clock is a podcast meant to get your Christian faith and work aligned. You won’t find mantras or hacks here--just scripture-based insights to help you grow yourself, your company, and your relationship with God. If you want out of the worldly hamster wheel and want to work with purpose, then this is the show for you. Hosted by freelance business writer Wanda Thibodeaux.
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer based in Eagan, MN. Since 2006, she has worked with a full range of clients to create website landing pages, product descriptions, articles, professional letters, and other content. She also served as a daily columnist at Inc.com for three years, where she specialized in content on business leadership, psychology, neuroscience, and behavior.
Currently, Thibodeaux accepts clients through her website, Takingdictation.com. She is especially interested in motivational psychology, self-development, and mental health.