Could 2 Words Hold the Key to a Joy-Filled Life?


Gratitude is a powerful force. When we cultivate an attitude of gratitude, it not only changes our perspective but can change our lives. The importance of expressing gratitude and how it can transform us is worth exploring.

It’s insightful to reflect on the Hebrew prayer called the Amidah or the 18 Benedictions, where God’s people would recite 18 blessings multiple times a day as a way to remain grateful. The act of verbalizing gratitude kept them from taking the good things in their lives for granted. It’s often true that when we forget to be grateful, we start to believe we inherently deserve everything we have. Entitlement replaces thankfulness.

This tendency is illustrated well through an amusing story of a psychic in the 1970s who sued a hospital for $980,000 after a CAT scan allegedly caused her to lose her psychic abilities, damaging her business. Though the hospital helped diagnose her medical issues, her sense of entitlement led to ingratitude and an outrageous lawsuit.

It’s also reflective to look at the well-known story of Jesus healing 10 lepers, where only one returned to thank him – a Samaritan outsider. The truth is, feeling grateful is not the same as expressing it. We must verbalize and demonstrate our gratitude, just like in marriage. If we only feel affection for our spouse but never express it verbally or through acts of service, the relationship suffers. The same goes for our relationship with God.

So how can we cultivate the art of gratitude? Writing a meaningful thank you letter to someone who impacted our life and investing time to craft it well can be a powerful practice. Doing this before Thanksgiving could be a way to reflect on a person who moved our life forward. Gratitude expressed to others often boomerangs back to us, filling our own hearts with joy.

Gratitude also tends to create gratitude in others when they receive our expression of thanks. It has a contagious effect that counteracts the negativity so prevalent today. Getting involved in serving opportunities like providing food for those in need can help us gain perspective and feel more grateful as well.

Yet life also contains genuine hardship and pain that makes gratitude difficult. The devastating loss of an infant grandson was reflected on, and the challenge of grieving this profound loss while still feeling grateful to be with family. As Nouwen wrote, “To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives―the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections―that requires hard spiritual work.”

Though gratitude in hard times may seem impossible, the key is trusting purpose even when we cannot understand. If our foundation is love itself, not our ever-changing circumstances, we can trust care for our pain and walk with us through it. As Paul said, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will for you.

In this season of Thanksgiving, get creative and think of tangible ways to express gratitude to others – writing thank you letters, volunteering, donating food or resources, and verbalizing gratitude. The benefits of developing a lifestyle of gratitude are immeasurable. Gratitude grounds us in care, even when life feels shaky. It connects us to others. It reminds us of blessings we overlook. It inspires generosity. Most of all, it deepens our bonds of love. May we reflect on how we can take small steps to unlock the transforming power of gratitude!