Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

You Don’t Have Thanks, You Give It

At a time when many people have seen better times, it’s easy to look at a day called “Thanksgiving” and scoff: What do I have to be thankful for? Well, a lot, actually.

Girl at window

Photo credit: martinak15 (Creative Commons)

For years, I misunderstood gratitude. I thought it was about feeling grateful for the gifts around me. But when I didn’t feel I had anything to be grateful for, I wondered what was wrong with me.

But now, I get it. You can’t have thanks; you can only give it. (Feel free to tweet that.)

Gratitude is a discipline

The more you practice feeling grateful, the more grateful you become. Gratitude is a muscle that you strengthen through daily use — an exercise, not an emotion. It’s not something you feel, but rather something you do. And as with most things, the people who are best at it are the ones who do it even when they’re tired and worn out and don’t much feel like it.

So what does this mean for you?

I can’t tell you what to be thankful for. Only you know that. But I’m confident you have the same opportunity we all have today– to give thanks or not. To choose to see a few gifts hidden in that life of yours or miss the opportunity. To use your gratitude muscle or let it lie dormant.

If you do decide to give thanks, you might surprise yourself. You may find, as others have, that the more you utter the words thank you, the more gratitude pours out.

Sometimes, the right attitude doesn’t come until you show up.

Go be grateful

If you’re up for a little challenge, do something different today. When most people are looking for someone to blame for their current state of affairs, don’t sit around waiting for gratitude to come.

Instead, give thanks.

Without prompting or pushing, find something to be thankful for. Speak it, and believe it, then watch that gratitude muscle grow. And if you need a little prompting, check out my “10 Reasons to Be Thankful” post.

What do you have to be grateful for? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Great post Jeff.  We have so much to be thankful for it is difficult to write them all down.  Shared some of mine on my blog.  Hope you have a great Thanksgiving.  Thanks for being an inspiration to so many.  Appreciate what you do.

  • We got so much to be thankful for. Our cup is overflowing, and we we must do is pour out and serve others. Great post, and have a great thanksgiving!

  • I have so much to be grateful for I can’t begin to list it here, but above all else, I’m grateful for a God — a heavenly Father — who loves us all so much He sent His Son into the world to be our Savior. I’m grateful that He is my rock, my peace, my joy, my hope, and the giver of all the other good gifts in my life. I am blessed!

  • Great post, Jeff.  On my reflections about Thanksgiving at http://danerickson.net, I point out that we should be thankful for “all” we’ve been given.  Sometimes what we label as “bad” winds up leading us to better places.  Be thankful.  Happy Thanksgiving!

  • I love this outlook. We choose to be grateful everyday. My friends who live in tents in Haiti  and shacks in Africa teach me this all the time.  I’m always amazed of their joy and gratefulness, even though their lives have deep struggles. 

  • Grateful that when I have more than ‘enough’, I can share. Giving of yourself is the most amazing thing you can ever do. It’s the only thing worth doing. Doesn’t require special skills, or talents, or even money. Just ordinary people.

    God bless, Jeff 🙂

    • I agree, Sandy. Thanks for sharing your gift today.

  • Pat Youther

    I have oh so many things for which I’m thankful!  I love this day when people are especially mindful of being thankful.  Thanks for your post, Jeff!

  • Hey, Jeff.  Happy Thanksgiving.  My first comment seems to have not posted.  When I reflect on giving thanks I think we should give thanks for “all” things, not just what we label “good” things.

  • Roberta Brown

    A few days ago, my husband sold an old iPhone to someone who had responded to his Craigslist post.   They met at our local community college.  The gentleman shared his story:  he is an Iraqi who had a business in his country.  One day while he was at work, his home was shelled, and he lost his entire family – wife, children, and other relatives.  He then moved to Syria, where is lost his business again.  He then applied for and was granted asylum here in the United States.  He is starting all over again, taking classes at this community college.  And yet he is thankful.
    Yes, it is definitely all about how we perceive and react – or proact – to our experiences.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Jeff!

    • Wow, Roberta. Incredible story. I’ve heard some pretty interesting ones thru my own Craigslist interactions, but this beats them all.

    • Kendrickkenworthy

      I’ve never heard that phrase quite like this – “proact to your experiences.” I’m grateful for that phrase, Roberta! I heard Marie Osmond once say on a TV show that her mother gave her good advice to be proactive rather than reactive. Your way of putting it, “proact to your experience” just really is a more active way of saying it and grabs me. I’m grateful you inspired here to proact more deeply to life’s circumstances. And Jeff, great post! Needed by this reader. Karen

  • I’m just blown away that I get to live life with my wife and two girls. They are amazing.

    • Love that, Aaron. Thanks for sharing!

      • Hey Jeff, the system is letting me post replies, but won’t seem to post my comments.  I’m thankful for “all” things, including the hard times that led me to where I am today.  

    • Amen, Aaron.

  • As I say every year, “I’m grateful that God doesn’t always give me what I want, but always gives me what I need!”

  • Excellent post.  I never thought of gratitude as being a discipline.  You inspired me to write my blog about that.  Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Marlene

    I like that you see gratitude as a verb!

  • I’m thankful for “all” things, including those that were hard but led me to where I am today.

  • I am grateful for my:
     Mom who is in heaven with my 3 of my brothers
    my grandmother who passed away when Mom was born
    Dad who is still here with us
    my children Nicholas, his wife Kayla, Alan, Kara and Nicole
    I am grateful that Jesus is crazy about me
    that I live on 3 acres in an old house that needs lots of work
    that my husband of 22 years moved out last March, life is more peaceful now-most of the time
    my sister and brothers
    the people at the church I attend
    that God loves me, even knowing all I have done and all I will do

    Have a great Thanksgiving!!!!!!

  • Sharon O

    I am grateful for a God who is incredibly patient with me and loves me without reservation.
    I am grateful for a husband who has stood with me through good and bad for 39 years and still loves me.
    I am grateful for a son and a daughter who are awesome and beautiful.
    I am grateful for six beautiful grandchildren who give me reason to be ‘a positive confident’ grandma.
    I am grateful for family and friends and most of all…
    for health. We don’t know how precious it is till we lose it.

  • Davejarnold16

    So true, Jeff. Gratitude is a discipline. My wife says the older people get they either become bitter or better. I think that’s so true. And gratitude helps us not become bitter. Thanks for this reminder. Happy Thanksging.

  • I am thankful for the difficult financial season we are walking through, for it’s made us lean on the Lord and trust Him more.
    I am thankful for my four beautiful and healthy children who all passionately serve God.
    I am thankful for a loving and patient husband who never ceases to encourage me.
    I am thankful for God, who continues to call me to come to Him, even on my weakest days.

  • I’m grateful for people like you, Jeff, who get what it means to give thanks, not get it, for this delightful community of friends, who share your idea that “gratitude” can be a verb (I “gratituded” Thanksgiving with my friends today), and for my own epiphany that I, too, have much to give and to be thankful for. 

    • Careful! “Verbing weirds language.” -Bill Waterson (via Calvin in Calvin in Hobbs.) 😉

    • Thanks, Mary. And I’m grateful for readers like you.

  • I think you can have thanks, but the point is well made that you can exercise the muscle of gratitude by the act of giving thanks. Action often precedes emotion. I think that’s always true. That doesn’t mean we don’t have the emotion, it just means we don’t have to be feeling it ahead of time to make it happen. 😉

  • I read “One Thousand Gifts” this year and was floored. So many times we forget to give thanks “in everything,” as we are called to do. And it’s amazing what miracles occur when we do give thanks, often and intentionally.


  • Wayne Kroeplin

    Hi Jeff,
    Great reminder of maintaining our mechanism of thankfulness.  Question:  how did you add the “tweet this” function in your post?  I am using wordpress.  Is this a plug in?
    thanks again

  • Hi Jeff,
    It is always good to read and to be reminded to always be thankful, thankful for what we have.

  • This is so important Jeff, one of the main reasons people get so stressed out and feel so empty. They don’t understand gratitude. They don’t think of what they already have, they seek  “wants.” And that desire is never fulfilled. Doesn’t it just come down to basics, the here, the now, how blessed (most) of us are… just as we are. Great post. 

  • “It’s a funny thing. But sometimes the right attitude doesn’t come until you show up to do the work.”

    I would tweet that. Brilliant Jeff.

  • These reminders are really helpful, especially right *after* Thanksgiving, when it can be so easy to fall out of that mindset. At church on Sunday I heard a quote from CS Lewis that said, “…the line between pretending to feel something and beginning to feel it is too thin for a moral bloodhound to sniff.” The application is simple ( but not necessarily easy). Even if we don’t feel grateful or not, we can “fake it till we make it” and pretend that we do, looking for what we can be grateful for. Not things that are perfect, but that which makes our lives even a little better–relationships, material goods, opportunities, etc.–or allows us to make someone else’s life better. Any of these can be a reason to be grateful, and then as we focus on them, we will tend to find even more to be grateful for.

  • Lshontale

    I am so grateful to have found your website.  I have found it to be very helpful and motivating. I recently read a book called The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels.  They had an excellent chapter on gratitude as a practice.  After reading it, I have formed the habit of meditating on each day and documenting 5 things for which I am grateful. This is the first habit I managed to stick with for more than a couple of weeks.  Gratitude really does help fight negative thinking.  God knows I need help with that.  Thanks for all you do Jeff.  I love your website.

  • Tonya

    I have just stumbled onto your blog and LOVE it! 

  • I like that you see gratitude as a verb!

  • Jim Jacobs

    In my morning prayer time, I have learned to set aside a few minutes to mention some of what I am grateful for.  As I remember that last few months, I see myself being grateful for the relationships in my life.

  • Sandi

    Just finished the article. Thank you. Real gratitude, like forgiveness is difficult at times. When I look to Jesus’ life, the cross and His sacrifice for me, to release me to be who I am meant to be, I am filled with gratitude. That is the thanks and gratitude I like to share and give away in whatever form is right at the time.

  • Mary T

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones! Couldn’t agree with you more! God has given us His grace and the gift of sharing His love! We are to be thankful in all circumstances for His great plan is more wondrous than we can imagine! Today and every day I am thankful for all the Lord’s blessings!

  • Jade Campbell

    Right now I am just grateful that I can give my mum precious time, for the short period she has left with us.
    To ensure she knows how much she is loved – to remind her of her acheivements – to encourage and allow her to unburden her fears and worries – to find peace, tranquility and acceptance, to take her places she still want’s to go – to try activities she has never done . .and to be there when she needs me the most.

  • Sue Neal

    I have far too much to be grateful for to list in this comment box – and you’re absolutely right, gratitude doesn’t just happen, it’s a conscious choice we can make. The wonderful thing about it is the more grateful you are, the happier you tend to feel.

    Thanks for another inspiring post. And Happy Thanksgiving 🙂

  • Jeff, I have people like you in the blogging community for which I’m thankful this year. You inspire and encourage. Thank you!

  • Tom Bentley

    Jeff, thanks for the obvious care with which you communicate, your searching and your frankness, and your encouragement to look to the good (and to make the effort). Happy Thanksgiving!

  • FionRK

    Hello Jeff, a thoughtful post. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia, unfortunately, but getting into the spirit, I am thankful for healthy grown children, my first grandson, friends, enough work, and definitely enough food to eat. We live in a great country, I am thankful for that. Cheers. Great post.

  • Practice being grateful, right?

  • Kathy Storrie

    My author friend mentioned on her blog that a friend said, “Thanks Giving Day is fine but “thanks living” is much better. I knew you would like that. The other 364 days of living we need to be thankful, too, not just on one day. I like that you said gratitude isn’t always felt but it’s something you do even when you’re tired or don’t feel it; it’s something we discipline ourselves to do before we feel it. I get it. Thanks.

  • Melanie Fischer

    I was quite upset with someone the other day and started spewing off a list in my head of things that frustrated me about them. Then I heard a voice in my head say “ok…now list 10 things you love about them”. Once I started, I couldn’t stop; there were many more fabulous qualities than just 10. My attitude towards that person instantly switched to gratefulness for having them in my life.

  • this says it nicely: You can’t have thanks, you give it. If we keep it to ourselves, it’s not gratitude nor grace. Bravo Jeff.

  • twhite6878

    Thankful I still have my mother, even though she annoys and nags me to death. A couple friends of mine around my age (mid-thirties) have lost their mothers to breast cancer and as it stands now I don’t see how I could manage living without her. She’s my rock and while the things I’ve acquired mean a lot to me my family, my mother. She’s the best thing in my life.

  • Thanksgiving Day and the remarkable thing, if you really understand and feel all the significance of this day, the question is understandable Thank least.

  • This is a great and interesting take on being grateful, Jeff. You’re absolutely right. We might surprise ourselves by making an effort to be grateful. Thanks for sharing.

  • agraciouslife

    Everyday for this year, I wake up going through the day even with pain and worries, I am still able to love. Just being able to live, it gets me through the day, I am grateful for that.

    Thank you for this post!

  • Thank you!

  • Carell-Ayne Whalen

    Well done Jeff. In fact, your email on “Gratitude” couldn’t have come at a better time. Why? because of two things. I always so grateful everyday of my life, even for just being alive& healthy and so much more. At an early age, my parents always drilled into my little head………”look for the good and grateful” things in our lives. Secondly, tonight, I am going to a “networking ” party and we will all be asked to stand up, introduce ourselves and share about “Gratitude” in our lives. So, this part is easy for me on one level, but hard on another. Why again? because it is really is a discipline used everyday. It is always wonderful to be grateful for the good things in our lives, but what about the “challenges?” Challenges, if we are able to step back and look at the situation from an objective point of view, can be “gifts” all wrapped up in themselves. What did I learn? How should I react? and Why me?………”Well, why not?”

  • Glenn Bauer

    Incredibly powerful quality to have. As soon as the light at the end of the tunnel starts to dim I know I have neglected to count my blessings. Its kinda like the emotional version of pasting a smile on your face to lift your spirits. Great post and Thanks 🙂

  • Jennifer Montoya

    What a great post to read towards the end of an awesome day!! It’s so important to be thankful even in hard times. Now I understand that, it took some time, but it’s well worth it now.

  • Clair

    You are right about gratitude being something we need to exercise. For the past month or so I have been writing down one thing I am thankful for at the end of the day. It makes me think and start noticing how many things I can be thankful for.

  • Tracy Stella

    I agree, gratitude grows. I am grateful for a supportive and encouraging husband. He pours into me and others generously.

  • I’m thankful for others who have made a tremendous difference in my life. And I’m thankful for a creative God who made others unique and special.