‘If only.’ Probably the two most pointless words you can put in a sentence and the cause of so much unhappiness.
‘If only’ means ‘something isn’t’. And it’s that ‘something’ that could be eating away at much of our personal growth and fulfilment.
I’ve found, from my own experience, it’s very tempting to look for a grand solution to all our problems and frustrations, in ‘something else’. An ‘answer’ to feeling happier and more fulfilled.
You know the usual things; ‘if only I had a more effective diet’, ‘a better job with more pay’, ‘the perfect relationship’ or ‘to make that long dreamed retirement a golden reality.’
I’m sure you have your own, ‘if only’. We all do. It’s bound up with what it means to be human.
The problem is our answers to the ‘if only’ problem will always tend to revolve around ourselves and even worse is that we miss out on a lot of the good life along the way.
So I’d like us to put aside whatever wish fulfilment we’re carrying at the moment (and I’m speaking to myself as I’m writing).
This is not a self-help pep talk or a phoney Mr Motivator positivity thing (despite that ‘positive’ is one of my favoured adjectives).
What I’m about to tell you will change your life. Seriously, it will.
I’m giving it to you for free.
That’s because it’s so obvious, I’d be a fraud to claim otherwise. And you’ve probably guessed it by the title anyway. So here it is, the life-changing answer to our ‘if only’ frustrations;
‘Run that by me again’, I hear you ask. Well here it is, the positive power of ‘thankfulness’, explained.
Thankfulness; the best thing in life that’s free.
Thankfulness is so simple, it’s scandalous. It’s also very powerful.
It shifts our focus, away from the uncertain future (with of course it’s wonderful possibilities) to the ‘perfect present’. Perfect because right now you should be breathing (if not, please discontinue reading and calmly seek assistance immediately, even if hooked on this blog).
And breathing is a good place to start because breath is life. And life is, well, kind of miraculous, right? I don’t have time to go through the history of the universe and how you got here, (I’ve already covered this elsewhere in I believe in miracles here’s why)
But let’s establish that these things, life, and breath, are a pretty good starting point.
Now, for this, give thanks.
How does that feel? Not bad, right?
Now take a look around you (or on you) and look for something that you have that you couldn’t live without, that you regard as a special gift.
Now, for this, give thanks too.
If you continue to do this, while reflecting and pausing to recall all the things you have, then a new level of gratitude will start to fill your life.
You could imagine it’s a bit like going to draw water from a well. You need to keep returning to the well because your survival depends on it, in as much as it is a daily habit and necessity.
It’s like that with thankfulness, and it’s a mindset that can be developed and cultivated in anybody and at any age. We just need to be conscious and consistent enough to do it. It’s free and easy to do, just like all the good things in life, like good company and laughter.
What does the Bible say about thankfulness?
What does the Bible have to say about thankfulness? You won’t be surprised to discover that it says a lot! There are many direct references to being thankful (and many more indirect passages that have thankfulness at its heart).
To illustrate this, here are just three verses that tell us directly to be thankful, each using thankfulness for a different purpose.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psalms 107:1
One way to be thankful is to simply be grateful to God for who he is. As the Psalmist writes, he is good, his love is eternal and perfect and as his creation, we can wholly trust and rely on him. No matter what life may put in our way, it’s reassuring that God is constant and unchanging. Our gratitude for his love is a wholly appropriate response from us.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
This may be a real challenge at times, especially when we’re experiencing a difficult time in life but Paul in his letter is encouraging the church to hold on and be faithful, regardless of how easy or hard it gets. Often the most trying things in our lives can be the things that enable us to grow in faith and rely on God more. It’s also a reminder that when times are good, we shouldn’t be forgetful but consistently thankful too. So regardless of circumstances, thankfulness is being asked of us. Are we then up for the right response?
Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2
It’s all too easy when we pray, to pray for things that are me centred or a shopping list of concerns. Prayer can seem to be a way of getting things off our chest. Well, this little passage makes it clear that first, prayer is something worthy of devoting our lives to and second, that thankfulness is a significant part of prayer.
It puts us in a better perspective when we come to God.
These are just a few small examples of the many ways we should be thankful from the Bible. Clearly, God has revealed this important action in our faith life for our own spiritual health.
But is there more going on to thankfulness than we expect?The positive side effects of thankfulness
We don’t do thankfulness in order to gain any personal benefit, in the same way, we don’t give money or time for the sole reason of feeling good about ourselves.
But, like all good things we do, there appears to be a kind of ‘blessing’ received. There’s plenty of scientific research that backs up the idea that thankfulness is actually good for our health too. In fact, a whole area of study has developed called psychoneuroimmunology, that looks at how the mind impacts our health and well-being.
You can read a list of psychological benefits to gratitude here.
Still, feeling a little skeptical? Ok, I’ll wheel out the big guns now. An Einstein quote if you please;
‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’ Albert Einstein.
Thank you, Einstein.
And I think I can guess which one he’d pick. If life is lived as a miracle, then thankfulness should seem to us as natural as breathing.
Developing a daily thankfulness habit
‘Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil with welcome good.’ Maya Angelou.
What a wonderful quote. When thankfulness is done in this way, it really is a life changer. We’ve seen how easy it is just to start to think about the things we have and to give thanks to God for them.
Personally, I’m a great believer in starting small to make big changes. So why not get into a thankfulness habit? Many people and families give thanks before eating a meal. ‘Saying grace’, is a great daily habit. Of course, it should never become a ritual, and so long as we’re truly grateful and mindful of what we have when we say it, it’s a great thing to do.
Once we’ve established a daily routine, like saying grace, why not expand that to other times and moments in the day to give thanks for other things? Perhaps when our minds have nothing else to do and we aren’t so distracted by our phones.
Maybe this is what the Bible means when it says we should ‘pray continually’ (1 Thes 5:17).
This would open up more of our conscious lives to gratefulness. This surely would shift so much of our personal attitudes, behaviours and self-centered habits we all easily succumb to.
‘Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.’ Cicero.
I couldn’t agree more.
What happens when we just can’t be thankful?
Now life will never be a thankful, bed of roses. I know, I’ve felt some thorns along the way. For some of us, we will fall into a life situation such as a severe illness or loss, where we are in no position to feel thankful. Only shock and even anger.
We should acknowledge the reality of what’s happening and not blame ourselves or others for not ‘being thankful enough’.
Thankfulness is not some kind of ‘work’ that we do to gain merit or sole benefit from God. It should be spontaneous and a genuine response to our life.
So when it comes to these very serious circumstances in life, even though we may not be able to express thankfulness, we can certainly call to God for help and express our anger and anguish. We remember, his love endures forever. He will listen, and in that, we can readjust our lives to coming to terms with the reality we live in.
When someone is feeling so down, that they can’t be thankful for life, there’s a calling there for others around them to support them and affirm them with thankfulness for who they are. This is truly powerful and life-saving and can have the effect of bringing someone back into a place of healing and again, thankfulness.
Start the thankfulness revolution
Do you want to change the world? Overthrow the system? Bring joy and peace? Then grateful people of the world unite, you only need to say two words, thank you.
Our modern world is full of anxious, unsatisfied people. We’ve never had so much and yet become so miserable because of it. More studies have evidenced that materialism, the want of more possessions, leads to higher incidence of unhappiness and depression. Thankfulness is the proven cure.
If we want to change the world, consume less and live better, longer and happier lives, all we need to do is repent (literally to turn around and reverse an attitude) and live our lives satisfied with what we have.
Life is a precious gift from our creator and thankfulness is a necessary way of responding to this fact. But it’s a revolutionary, counter-cultural habit that God encourages in his word and in our lives.
So, no more “if only’s”, from now on it’s ‘what is’, and how marvellous that can really be when we pause to reflect and give thanks.
Jeremy – Not Only Sundays (About Us).
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