The Bright Side

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How many of us wake up each morning thankful that your beta cells were functioning; or that your kidneys hadn’t shut down; or that your red blood cells were carrying oxygen; or that the myelin sheath on your nerves was intact; or that your liver helped digest last night’s meal?

Or that your house didn’t burn down? Or that you have a job? Or that your bills last month were all paid? Or that your car starts in the morning? Or that your spouse is faithful? Or that… ?

If you spent every morning openly being thankful for all you have to be thankful for (the electricity didn’t go out, your children are safe, your computer works, your health issues are under control, the basement didn’t flood in last night’s storm), you wouldn’t be able to get anything done because you would be too busy expressing gratitude for all that’s good in your life!

This morning there are people who face some of the things listed above, from their beta cells not functioning (diabetes), to not having a job — things that many of us take for granted, at least until we don’t. That is, when one these things that we never give a second thought to suddenly disappears from our lives, only then do we realize what a blessing it has always been. Ask someone suffering from, for example, their myelin sheath not working (Multiple Sclerosis) how thankful we should be that ours is, though most of us probably haven’t one time stopped and expressed gratitude for it.

No one denies the hardships of life. How could we? Who among us, even among the richest, the most talented, the most respected doesn’t struggle, doesn’t have moments of abject despair, moments when you think Why me? Or What did I do to deserve this? Or This isn’t fair!

But, still, look at all you have to be thankful for.

In an encouraging book by Adventist pastor Will Johns called Everything is Better Than You Think: How Gratitude Can Transform Your Life, he writes about how developing habits of being thankful for what you do have, for what is good in your life, can radically change your whole perspective, even amid trials. Having researched a PhD thesis on gratitude, Johns wrote, “What I discovered absolutely amazed me. Research shows we can be significantly happier without anything external changing in our lives. And the more positive we feel after practicing gratitude, the more likely we are to make better decisions. Thus, gratitude does not only make us happier in the present, it also has real, practical power to help us choose a better future as well.”

We’re not talking about being “Pollyannish” (the attitude that everything is always good, no matter what). Former president Ronald Reagan told the story of a child who finds a pile of manure under the Christmas tree. It was meant to be a cruel joke, but the child exclaims: “Oh, there must be a horse nearby for me!” The issue is not ignoring the painful reality of our trials but, rather, not letting these painful realities drive our thoughts and dominate our emotions. And the best way to avoid that trap is, yes, by gratitude for the good.

According to Johns, neuroscience shows that our brain’s default mode is to go negative (who can’t relate?), but that we can train ourselves not to stay there. We need to be proactive in dwelling on the good and being thankful and grateful for that good.

Which shouldn’t be that hard, should it? Who doesn’t have things to be grateful for? The mere fact that you are reading this article shows that your eyes work (some people’s eyes don’t), that your computer functions (some don’t even have a computer), and that you can read (some people can’t). These might seem like small things, but if you think about them, and express gratitude for them, your whole frame of mind will change.

In short, gratitude can do what anti-depressants are supposed to do (but don’t half the time, anyway), which is improve our mood — and gratitude doesn’t come with the negative side effects, either.

Centuries ago, the apostle Paul wrote: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Notice, Paul didn’t say that all circumstances were good. He said to give thanks in all circumstances — if not for the circumstances themselves, then for all the good things in your life despite the circumstances.

“Ultimately,” writes Will Johns, “gratitude is about focus. It is a choice to intentionally focus on what is good in my life. Even though it can be a struggle — since our minds tend to gravitate toward the negative — we are not doomed to become negative people. We still have the power of choice. I believe God has given us that power of choice, and no one can take it away. The good news is that it is never too late to start choosing gratitude.”

No, it’s never too late. Why not start right now, because you do have so much to be grateful for. And, if you think about it, you may be surprised at how good things really are.

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