When my son started talking, thank you was one of the first phrases we taught him to say. I don't think that's unusual. After mama, dada, and a few other baby words, thank you is drilled into most children's heads early on.
When someone gives them a gift or a compliment, we are quick to prompt, "What do you say?" to which they gurgle "Thank ouuu" or something to that effect, depending on their age. Even though they don't comprehend the significance of what they are saying, we make them say it anyway—and not simply because we place a high value on good manners. It's more than that. We understand the importance of expressing sincere gratitude to those who show us a kindness.
As with all words, thank you and other expressions of gratitude are key building blocks of the attitudes you and I walk around with. When we speak thankful words, even if we aren't necessarily feeling thankful in the moment, their creative power goes to work, fostering a more grateful attitude within us. That, in turn, will usher us into a more full and joyous life.
Harnessing the creative force of your words through directed action is the single best way to cultivate a mindset that positively influences every aspect of your life. You can begin intentionally incorporating words of gratitude into everyday speech by taking some practical action steps based on four truths:
First, begin your day with gratefulness. Have you ever noticed that your mornings have a major impact on how your afternoon and evening hours unfold? If you get up when you are supposed to and have time to go through your morning routine without being rushed, that positive start generally sets you up for a good day. On the other hand, if you oversleep, don't have time for breakfast, don't have any time to spend with God, and rush out the door frazzled, that state of being is going to carry over into everything you do and every interaction you have for the rest of the day.
Given this reality, choosing to take the time to focus on God with gratefulness first thing in the morning goes a long way toward keeping you in a grateful mindset throughout the rest of the day.
To begin orienting yourself toward daily gratefulness, try starting a gratitude journal. Every morning, jot down five things you are grateful for. They may be specific things that happened in your life the day before, or they may be more general notions. On the mornings when you aren't feeling particularly grateful for anything read back through your journal. Thank God for what He has done, for what He is doing, and for what He is going to do in the future. This simple activity will shift your focus to the good things in your life—to the blessings God is bringing your way.
If the idea of journaling intimidates you, you may want to start with something smaller. Try writing a favorite Scripture or a quotation about gratefulness on a sticky note and putting it on your bathroom mirror. While you brush your teeth or comb your hair, focus on that little piece of paper. You'll be reminded to pull back from the urgent concerns of the day and spend a few minutes giving attention to what you are grateful for.
When you make choosing gratitude each morning a habit, you will see your level of thankfulness skyrocket. You will suddenly be more aware of the good things in your life, and the new focus will shape the contours of your days for the better. Before long, you'll find yourself waking up saying, "Good morning, Lord!" rather than "Good Lord, its morning!"
Second, remove all complaints from your life.People love to complain—they like the attention and sympathy it gets them. Like a dog licking a wound, the complainer feels better in the moment of complaining, but it only makes the actual problem worse. When you fuel the fire of a difficult situation or negative circumstance with words, the more severe the situation or circumstance becomes. Just as gratitude breeds more to be grateful for, complaints breed more to complain about.
To get the complaints out of your life, you have to realize why they are there to begin with. Complaining is a symptom of something deeper—of a life preoccupied with negativity. Complaining is a slippery slope. One complaint leads to another, then to another after that. Before you know it, you're officially a complainer. That naturally invites other people to complain around you, which does nothing but lead to the creation of a cynical, destructive environment.
The best way to break the cycle of complaining and the problems it causes is to make a drastic change. Don't just try to cut down on complaining. Instead, make a decision to remove all complaints from your life. When you feel a complaint about to slip from your lips, shift your focus away from your problem to something you are grateful for. Get in the habit of turning your attention toward the good things in your life rather than harping on the bad. Take Paul's words to heart: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8, NIV).
What if you were to make a decision to stop complaining for just one week? For seven days, choose to intentionally move your focus away from everything that's wrong in your world and concentrate instead on the good that surrounds you. Focus on God and what he has done for you. Don't allow a complaint to escape your lips. You'll be amazed at what will happen in your life during that week simply because you chose to lay negativity aside and shift your attention toward gratefulness.
Third, be quick to say, "Thank you." There are two different levels of gratefulness. The first is simple common courtesy. When someone does something nice for you, say thank you. Don't take kindness for granted. More important, though, is saying thank you to the people who influence your life on a larger scale—those who pour into you and help you walk through the world in step with the best version of yourself. Who is that for you? Who has impacted your life in a significant way? There is tremendous power in thanking them for what they've done, even when—especially when—they don't realize they've done anything at all.
During my final year of undergrad, my university started a program to encourage deliberate expressions of gratitude. Students who met certain academic criteria were invited to an end-of-the year banquet. Each qualifying student was encouraged to invite a teacher from his or her high school years who had been particularly influential. When I found out I qualified for the banquet, I knew immediately that I wanted to invite my high school biology teacher, Mr. Sylvester. Even though I had hated biology, I loved Mr. Sylvester. He regularly pushed me to achieve more than I thought I could and taught me important lessons about meeting life head on.
Unfortunately, the timing wasn't good. Mr. Sylvester's wife was sick, and he didn't feel comfortable making the trip. So I sat down and wrote a letter filled with what I would have said to him in person if I'd had the chance. After I dropped the letter in the mail, life got busy, and I didn't think much about it—or about Mr. Sylvester—for the next several years.
Ten years after my college graduation, I was visiting my hometown and had lunch with an old friend, who happened to be Mr. Sylvester's son. When I asked how his dad was doing, my friend's face fell. Apparently things weren't great in Mr. Sylvester's life. He had lost his wife years ago, and now his own health was failing. But my friend also said, "I want you to know how much that letter you sent to him meant. He framed it and hung it on the wall in his office."
My friend went on to say that from time to time his dad would point to my letter and make a comment about how his 40 years of teaching had made a difference. I was blown away that my small gesture had meant so much to him.
Everyone wants to matter. Everyone wants to know they are making a difference. When we fail to say thank you to the people who have had an impact on our lives, we are robbing them of the sense of joy and fulfillment that could so easily be theirs. Never assume others know how you feel; say it. They may hope they have touched your life in some way, but they won't know for sure until you tell them.
Finally, learn to live every day in a state of present joy. Have you ever met someone who is always waiting for life's next milestone before he or she can be happy? I have a close friend who does this all the time. When we were in school, he couldn't wait to graduate because then he would be happy. After graduation, he couldn't wait to meet the right woman and get married; then he began focusing on moving up the ladder in his company. He felt like each successive rung would be the one to finally give him a sense of "making it." Then kids became the missing ingredient that he couldn't be happy without, so he and his wife decided to start a family. To this day, every time I talk to him, there is some new milestone on the horizon that he thinks will finally make him content.
Being content doesn't mean we shouldn't have dreams for the future. But as we plan, set goals, and work toward them, we need to live in the present with a sense of peace and gratitude. Take a look at the attitude Paul models in his letter to the Philippians 4:11-12: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want" (NIV).
We all have a tendency to overlook the joy in everyday life because we are so focused on the weekend, next month's vacation, our next relationship, our next promotion, or whatever we think will finally make us content. Life has to be lived in the now. If we don't learn how to be grateful for the realities of the mundane, we are never going to truly live. We'll get to the end of life and realize that we've simply existed, waiting and wishing our way from one thing to the next.
Develop a habit of focusing on what you are grateful for in the moment. Thank God for His goodness, for your health, for your family and friends, for the ability to work and create income. Thank Him for giving you another day of life and a purpose to fulfill. Thank Him for putting people around you whom you can encourage. Thank Him for giving you the opportunity to get better every day in every way and to continually draw closer to Him.
As you begin working these practices into your day, you will start seeing all you have to be grateful for with fresh eyes. Your heart will begin to shift toward an appreciation for the good in your life, and your words will reflect that shift.
Not only will this growth enhance your own life, but it will also help to spur gratitude in those around you, thereby elevating their lives. Once again, you have the opportunity to be the catalyst to a better life for yourself and the people you love. It all begins with saying thank you.
Copyright © 2015 Nelson Searcy. Tongue Pierced is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved.
1. Read "7 Ways to Save Thanksgiving" and apply it to your family.
2. There's a deadly weapon you carry with you all the time. Do you know what it is? Your tongue! Hear Pastor Nelson Searcy talk to FamilyLife Today® listeners about the power of the tongue and the ability we have to speak life or death to others. And purchase his book Tongue Pierced.
3. Barbara Rainey has created some wonderful resources that can help you and your family remember the past, recognize God's hand in our history, and express thankfulness to Him for His goodness today. Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember is a book accompanied by a CD with songs of worship and praise. Growing Together in Gratitude is a devotional that features seven compelling stories from the lives of great heroes of the faith. Consider ordering both of these resources today.