Gratitude requires contrast.
Gratitude depends on awareness and understanding as its foundation and context because gratitude is the organic response to a positive outcome when a negative or less desirable result was possible, likely, or certain.
Gratitude is so much more than just the rosy emotional response or the specific thanks for a job well done. Gratitude is the evolving, deepening, and expanding appreciation of the presence and power of God and His infinite and continuously revealing delivery of goodness, love, care, wisdom, provision, judgment, and blessing.
Gratitude is, in fact, one of the hallmarks of maturity as a believer and as a human being.
Of all the many characteristics that make up your personality and identity, one of the best measures of emotional depth and sincerity, breadth of education and knowledge, intellectual comprehension and insight, and relational capability and human understanding is gratitude. Gratitude is also perhaps the most easily observable measure in reflecting on your own experience. After all, it is readily apparent to even the least mature observer whether or not they feel a sense of appreciation as the result of a situation or experience. And yet, the presence and quality of that appreciation develops and expands in such miraculous and enriching ways as a person matures that the actual experience of gratitude itself grows deeper, more complex, more intimate, more comprehensive, and more heartfelt — far beyond the shallow imagination of those who have not yet developed to the same level of maturity.
At first glance gratitude is simply an emotion, a stimulus like any other, an external phenomenon that you may get to enjoy now and then as the situation or circumstance permits. And yet, gratitude is actually a choice — the outcome of your core values and individual belief system, the result of how you view yourself and the world around you and what choices you make to embrace reality and so change it.
“Now, wait a minute Steve! Gratitude is a choice? Appreciation is a choice? How can that be when I am not thankful for my situation or what is happening to me? How can it be a choice to appreciate or to be grateful when I don’t like my circumstances and the results I am achieving? What do you mean I can choose gratitude?”
Okay. So consider this. Choosing to be a believer re-contextualizes the individual by creating an awareness of the objective reality of their situation, the world around them, and their role and opportunity to effect change and improve both themselves and their circumstances as a result of their relationship with God. Whatever framework or worldview you choose, it carries with it a belief about the context and purpose of your life. Your philosophy and theology, or lack there of, set your expectations and shape your interpretation of your observations and your experiences. Your perspective and choices are, in fact, the direct result of the core values, core beliefs, and framework ideology that you hold. And much of your experience is simply the outcome of these more fundamental aspects of who you are.
It’s a matter of efficiency. The human brain cannot possibly process all of the information required to make a truly high quality decision in a timely fashion in the heat of the moment. So, the brain is built to stand on the shoulders of past decisions when making judgment calls in the present. Based on the success or failure of past decisions, the brain starts with a context for every new decision that seeks to constrain the amount of information required and the number of choices required in the moment of decision to provide for efficient and timely judgment calls. And it is this pattern of using experience and history as a context for current decision making that results in both one of our greatest strengths as human beings, our ability to adapt and innovate, and one of our greatest weaknesses, becoming blind to the truth and avoiding the facts.
On the one hand, as you grow, develop, and mature you are building up a storehouse of experience, insight, and factual observations that provide you a continually growing foundation for creativity and optimization like Thomas Edison observed,
“We have merely scratched the surface of the store of knowledge which will come to us. I believe that we are now, a-tremble on the verge of vast discoveries – discoveries so wondrously important they will upset the present trend of human thought and start it along completely new lines “
Each life is an opportunity to observe, to reflect, to learn, and to accomplish better and better outcomes as every choice and every experience provides the opportunity to continue down a prosperous path or to change direction in pursuit of a better future.
And yet, on the other side of this wondrously inventive and informative feature of our make up is a preference to use already discovered knowledge instead of new information when evaluating potential options and making choices. This hesitancy in the face of the facts is rooted in our drive to survive and defend ourselves from the most primal places of our brains. The great irony is that the very same patterns which drive innovation, the very same historical perspective and experiential learning, the very same wisdom and maturity which provide for the most robust creativity can also be used to entrench us in our opinions, trap us in our poor choices, and addict us to dysfunctional behaviors even when the plain evidence of the facts would encourage us to go in a better direction.
So, yes, gratitude is a choice. Or perhaps, more accurately stated, gratitude is the evidence and outcome of a choice, or many choices. It is the result of developing mature and effective core values, accurate and informed core beliefs, robust and compassionate character, thoughtful and purposeful personality, and a successful and fulfilling worldview that is aligned with and contextualized by the actual facts of God’s creation and existence.
Gratitude is not just an experience or an emotion. Gratitude is the expression and amplification of a connection with God. It is the awareness and appreciation of God’s presence and activity in, through, and around each of God’s people. And it is the measure of maturity that every believer can use to easily calibrate their approach and their belief system, their values and their character, their choices and their lifestyle.
So, if you don’t feel a lot of genuine gratitude. If you find it hard to identity anything you truly appreciate. If you struggle to achieve positive outcomes or build healthy relationships. If you feel caught or trapped in addictive behaviors or dysfunctional decisions. If you are stuck at a given level and can’t seem to rise higher or achieve more. Wherever you find yourself today, take a moment to pay attention to where you feel actual gratitude and start shaping or re-shaping your values, your beliefs, and your choices around those things of objective value that your gratitude brings to your awareness.
Gratitude is a choice not because it’s easy to change, but because it is easy to see. God built gratitude — truly deep, intimate, fulfilling, and heartfelt gratitude — into your brain like a homing beacon to highlight things of actual value and point the way back to Him no matter where you may wander or how badly lost you may become. So, if you don’t like where you find yourself today, if you want to rise higher, achieve more, receive greater blessings, experience greater favor, accomplish greater purposes, experience greater health, and live the life that God has in store for you — then embrace the tracking signal of gratitude that God is sending you and start making choices informed by this connection that God has given you to raise you up to new heights, to heal and restore you from what you have lost, and to bring you into greater and greater appreciation for the abundance of blessings and favor He is bringing your way.
“”Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,’ says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies…..’I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in!'” – Malachi 3