The Discipline of Gratitude [Slow Down Challenge: Day 5]

Note: This week, I’m writing a series of challenges to help you (and me) slow down and savor the good parts of life. Find out more about it here, and make sure you’re signed up for email updates so you don’t miss a thing.

One of the curses of living in such a fast-paced society is that we tend to take things for granted. We overlook everyday blessings, oblivious to the fact that life itself is a gift. And if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves rushing through each day, less and less grateful, which is no way to live.

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The sickness of ingratitude creeps into our lives slowly and inconspicuously. It manifests in subtle ways, like a feeling of offense when the person ahead of you in line takes her sweet time counting pennies before paying the store clerk.

It grows in us as we believe the thoughts that pop into our head: “I don’t deserve this” and “This is a waste of my time.”

Eventually this plague takes root in our hearts, where it can be hard to shake. And all of the sudden, every inconvenience becomes a personal affront, which we take very seriously.

Remembering to be grateful

When we forget to be grateful for the less-than-extraordinary times, we forget to be grateful, period.

Beauty and goodness are all around us; we just need eyes to see them. And the way we acquire such vision is saying thanks for the things that we don’t even understand to be gifts.

That’s not to say bad things don’t happen or that injustice and evil are not real. They are. But how we act when the worst stuff happens is correlated to our deepest beliefs about ourself and the world.

Are we expecting these bad things, even dreading them? Or can we find the good in them, seeing signs of possible redemption even in the worst of circumstances?

What we do in the worst of times determines who we are all the time [tweet that]. And in every evil and inconvenient time, there is still some good to be found.

Part of the reason we learn to say “thanks” for the seemingly small things is that it helps us appreciate the “big” things in life when they do come.

And the other reason is that as we learn to appreciate the small, we realize it is all big. We learn to stop waiting for tomorrow or a better break and finally embrace where we are, right now. Which hopefully by now we can say is a very good place.

Challenge: Give thanks


Today, try saying “thank you” — for everything. Say it to your spouse who makes you wait for dinner. Say it to the cashier who moves too slow. Say it to your late lunch appointment or the call center operator who keeps putting you on hold. Say it to God for every inconvenience that causes you to grow.

Say “thank you.” Don’t just think it or tell it to yourself. Actually speak the words, and mean them.

Be grateful for the moments that slow you down, the ones that cause you to take your time. Use these opportunities to appreciate what you already have and tend to miss.

As you do, see how much better life looks, and actually is, when you approach it with gratitude.

For more about learning to slow down, check out my new book, The In-Between, which is a call to be grateful for the less-than-spectacular times (it’s currently 40% off on Amazon).

What’s something that doesn’t seem like a blessing that you can be grateful for today? Share in the comments.

92 thoughts on “The Discipline of Gratitude [Slow Down Challenge: Day 5]

  1. The only debt worth owing is a debt of gratitude! A blessing in disguise in my life was getting laid off in 2009. I got hit with the writer’s bug and started a fiction novel I never finished. However, today, I write more than in my entire life combined.

    Life is like a golf course. We can often only see the path immediately ahead, but the best stuff is just around the corner. I’m grateful that I’ve learned to realize that.

  2. Yup: “When we forget to be grateful for the less-than-extraordinary times, we forget to be grateful, period.” For me, even though my job is less than exciting at times (okay most of the time), I’m grateful I even have one that pays well and provides for my family.

  3. My favorite, favorite subject! I believe gratitude is the bedrock of happiness. We have so many powerful role models who can teach us about gratitude: former POW CDR Paul Galanti for a doorknob on our side of the door, Corrie ten Boom for fleas in the barracks, and Apostle Paul for imprisonment, to name a few.

    We must learn to be grateful for where we are. That doesn’t mean we don’t have dreams and desires. It just means we are able to find joy in all circumstances.

    I have been stressing about not being ready when the truck comes to move us to TN. However, all the preparations—the multiple goodbyes, getting to spend time with my new and first granddaughter, packing a zillion boxes here and setting up our new lives from afar—means I have family and friends who are dear to me, more than enough stuff, and freedom to choose something very different for myself and my hubbie.

  4. Yes, yes, yes. And thank you for saying “thankful FOR,” rather than “thankful in.” I’m not one for posting links in comments (because it feels so often like hijacking), but I did write about this – about embracing the whole of my life with gratitude. Even the most horrific things. Thank you, Jeff, for the “slow down” series. You are shepherding well. We need it.

  5. Sometimes it takes time to realize there are things to be grateful for in painful circumstances. In writing my memoir, I’ve been looking at the abuse I received as a child (incest and physical). It took many years to realize God was there and that there were things to be thankful for even with the incest. In my case it was in the “nots”. What did not happen. I did not get pregnant by my father. I did not go insane. I did not get a sexually transmitted disease (even though my father slept around). I did not succeed in killing myself. In retrospect, there was even good in the past because now I can use what happened to help others who are hurting and I grew strong by battling my past. Even in terrible things one can find a reason to be thankful.

    1. Yes, time is important. This can be really hard, especially with some of the stuff you’ve gone through, Heather. I’m so sorry that happened. The fact that you’re finding things to be grateful for in such terrible circumstances is amazing. You’re amazing; thank you for sharing.

  6. Every Sunday when I go to bed, my partner and I have a ritual of recounting what a wonderful weekend we just had. Even when we didn’t, we still had each other and we are grateful that we got together once more and shared our time together. I will admit that I need to thank those people who I come across, it doesn’t come out naturally so I need to make an effort to give thanks always, even in the good and bad circumstances. Thanks, Jeff, for these challenges, I think we should now apply them to our lives and start living in a more positive way.

  7. I am grateful for Don, Kim and Ellory for sharing their inspirational stories of giving thanks… So THANK YOU!

  8. Great post Jeff. My little house. We bought the house I’m now when it was just me and my wife. Now we have three kids it’s pretty small. It is a blessing because of the lack of space. We are all together when we are all home. It is quick to clean. It cost less to heat and cool then a larger home. Thanks again for the reminder.

  9. I believe the gratitude shortage is really our biggest national crisis. Rabbi Rachel Naomi Remen says our blessings are so many and usually mostly ignored, like planes circling the airport, waiting for us to look up and recognize them and let them “land” and be felt in our lives.

    At Friday night dinner at our house we like to go around the table and mention our highlight of the week — what great, fun thing happened? Just another way to call to mind the things we’re grateful for.

  10. Another beautiful reminder to begin my day. I will begin with simply saying how grateful I am to have my family together again. 🙂 I look forward to beginning my day with them and remembering to say thank you as we go through our day together.

  11. That doesn’t seem like a blessing? I’d definitely say being back at home and ending my vacation. I’m sure amazing things are going to happen again and again. 🙂

  12. Thank you, Jeff, for remaining faithful to your craft and your calling. Reading this morning’s post helped to remind me of the calling we all have to live a life of deliberate appreciation when things are good, bad, or ugly. I remember reading a Guideposts story a couple years ago by John Kralik (Guideposts May 2011, page 14) where John relates being lost, both physically while hiking in the San Gabriel mountains, and emotionally as he struggled with his life’s direction. While stumbling around to find his way back to the trail, he heard “a loud, clear voice, saying, ‘Until you learn to be grateful for the things you have, you will not receive the things you want.'” That moment, that unequivocal wake-up call, opened his eyes to the grace and beauty surrounding him in every person, situation, and past choices. He began to write thank yous to folks who had in some way touched his life over the years. “Certainly the more thank-yous I wrote, the more I found to be grateful for,” he wrote. He eventually published a book called 365 Thank Yous, documenting those notes of simple appreciation for the things God had given him.

    Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “In all circumstances give thanks . . . .” Put on appreciation, wear gratitude, practice giving thanks for challenges, blessings, circumstances, and as you said “see how much better life is when you approach it with gratitude.” Keep up the good work, my friend!

  13. You’re making me think today. “What we do in the worst of times determines who we are all the time.” I love that. I’m thinking that it might work both ways on this one. Perhaps “What we do in the worst of times reveals who we are all the time.” Whatcha think? Happy Friday!

  14. Silliness. Run/ride/drive fast. Get where you’re going ASAP. It’s where you actually want to be. Stop kidding yourself. Arrive happy and on time.

  15. Thank you Jeff for sharing your thoughts on this. I believe there are no coincedences and I read your lovely post just at the right time. I have been feeling self pity creep into my mind mixed up with ‘compare and despair’ as i looked at other people and thought how great their lives are compared to mine.
    The truth is, I only know a fraction of the surface of these people’s lives and don’t really know what’s going on for them. I do know what’s going on in my life and I am surrounded by loving friends and family, I have great health, a lovely house, great neighbours, money in my pocket, the weathers lovely and warm…etc
    When I slow down and really give thanks for all the blessings I have, then this feeling slowly vanishes. You’re right, it is a discipline because if I forget to show thanks for EVERYTHING then I slide back into discontent.
    Thank you again for this piece and for reminding me of the most important thing I have to do is be grateful to God.
    Love & Light

  16. There is an upcoming org change that I’m not excited about, but being grateful for the chance to learn something “new” can really help curb my attitude to be more of a team player and support the boss’s strategy.

  17. Dirty dishes.

    It means that my family and I have food to eat on and our bellies were filled and content. It means I have a family to provide for. It means my home is blessed with love. Thank you God!

    Thank you also Jeff for this great post!

    1. Whoa, what a beautiful perspective on dirty dishes! Thank you for sharing it. I have a sinkful… and a beautiful, loving, well-fed family of 5. 🙂

      1. Thanks Kate! I had just finished washing those dirty dishes when I commented. It’s one of my least favorite chores but after reading Jeff’s post, it made me think of this activity in a different way. : )

  18. Thank you, Jeff. I need this reminder again today. I am home visiting my dad this week and it’s been a challenge to not get frustrated with how powerless I am to make a hard situation better.

  19. My children calling me a thousand times a day in different pitches and tones. Lol! I I am ever so thankful! I am loved, valued, and needed.

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  20. This cup of coffee I drink has never tasted so delicious. Thanks for the reminder to appreciate the present. It really is a gift. Keep up the inspirational work.

  21. A simple wonderful idea to make this day better. Thank you! I am sad today and on the verge of tears (which I have been asked not to shed). My baby is leaving for college. Just can’t quite believe that this active time of parenting four girls is over. Oh, I know, “they’ll be back,” friends like to say. But I also know that three of my girls are on their own and they come back but it is oh so different than being a young mama with four kids. So I’m really thankful that today I can release my daughter to the next phase of her life…and while I will miss her sweet singing presence terribly in my home, it’s time. And she’s awesome. And so goodbye my beloved daughter. Thank you for making my life full, happy, and beautiful because of you, unique and wonderful you!! (Okay…I’m crying, but she’s in the other room)

  22. Thank you for the reminder. To count your blessings, to be thankful for the little things, to thank God for the inconveniences, trials, and afflictions; for some things it is easier to be thankful than for others but as a comment below (by David Hughes) quotes Paul “In everything give thanks . . .” and as Paul in Ephesians says, “. . .giving thanks always and for everything . . .” I find when I am not thankful I start complaining which can (and sometimes has) lead to bitterness and I don’t want to go there.

  23. I’m sitting by the lake with a small campfire in front of me, feeling grateful that I took the time earlier today to set up my RSS reader again and add your blog. I needed this thankfulness reminder today.

  24. Jeff, I appreciate who you are. I ordered Wrecked sometime ago and have just now found time to read it. I found some great nuggets in there. Thank you for writing your truth. It has inspired me.

  25. Thank you for these words of wisdom. The message about gratitude reminds me of a quote… “The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for.” That puts things in perspective. 🙂 And your point about how we react in the worst of times is also so true. There’s always a reason why bad things happen. And it’s good to be reminded that we need to trust God always, not just when all is well in the world. Blessings!

  26. Hi Jeff,
    When my plans aren’t working out as I hoped, I become negative about the future and discontented with my present. This was a great reminder to be thankful for the now. I am going to start practicing thanksgiving more. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Great post Jeff. I totally agree, ingratitude can infect our whole lives! Going along with “saying thanks for everything”, I’ve adopted the habit of making sure that every week I write at least one hand written thank you note to someone that has helped me in some way (usually many more than one…). I got the idea from Matt McWilliams who started what he calls the “Thank You Revolution”, encouraging folks to take the challenge to write one thank you note a week for one year.
    Doing this has dramatically changed my outlook on everything in life. It’s amazing how much more grateful, kind and helpful I am when I focus on trying to find people that I can express my gratitude for and to.
    Thanks for a great post!

  28. Going beyond what is expected to say thanks is huge. I keep a box of thank-you cards in my office these days so I’m prepared to send a handwritten note. Great post, Jeff and great reminder. I lost my uncle last week at 58 – you just don’t know if you’ll have tomorrow to be grateful, so do it TODAY.

  29. This is beautiful, and a topic that has been on my mind lately. It seems the difference between a happy person and an angry person is not their situation, but how they perceive their situation. Being grateful for every challenge, set-back, victory and breath… it’s difficult to develop that habit. Thank you for the reminder to keep working on it.

  30. Thanks for that! As a mom, I’ve got two crazy littles who remind me daily how blessed I am. Today I’m going to focus on being thankful for all the little mishaps that try to make me forget they are indeed little blessings :0).

  31. I am so grateful and blessed to have an amazing Mom. I live in another state and am sometimes so busy with business that I don’t always give her quality time on the phone. I decided to stop that. I embrace and look forward to our 30-40 minute conversations. So many people would love to have their mom is their lives, and I’m so blessed I still have mine. I don’t take it for granted. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of a Mom who loves, supports and encourages me. Thank you for her life. Protect her everyday. Give her long life, I pray.

  32. Jeff, thanks for the reminder today about gratitude and giving thanks even for the interruptions and dissatisfaction in life. For quite some time, I maintained a blog on which I gathered with others on Ann Voskamp’s A Holy Experience blog to share our gratitude on Mondays. Life got in the way, and I got busy with writing my book and essays and two other blogs, and I shut down that blog where I shared my thanks. Recently, I took a look at how long it had been and I felt ashamed. Ashamed that I had stopped being thankful and writing those thanks down in a journal and then sharing them. But once again I pushed it aside. Not too many days later, a young woman I met during that time of gratitude emailed and asked me to guest post on her blog. Another reminder that I needed an appropriate place to share that post and my gratitude blog is the only one of the three. And now today you’ve nudged me again. I’m beginning to think that God wants that blog that was to shine light on Him revived. I see a clear message forming here. Thanks again!

  33. Thank you for showing me how to be great full for everything in my life I am going back to school to be able to help abused children. As I look back on my childhood and the abuse I went through, I can see some good that has come out of it. I am not thankful for being abused, but I am thankful that because of it I can use it to help someone else..

  34. My 4-year old daughter reminded me what it means to be greatful. At three o’clock in the morning, she called out, “Daddy, I want to go to the toilet!” I did my daddy duty, chaperoned her to do her thing, and then tucked her back into her bed. When I was done, she cheerily said to me, “Thank you daddy.”

    It may have seemed a mundane pleasantry but it wasn’t. Smack! For some reason, it hit me between my eyes like a high-caliber bullet. It was so genuine and filled with a pure, innocent love that came straight from her heart. I wrote a blog post on it, “Gratitude – a Leader’s Hallmark”.

    Jeff, thank you for reminding us to practice the spirit of gratitude. If this is ok with you, I would love to share the link to the full post.

  35. Today I have an inconvenience that I have no control over but I am grateful for it. My mom picks my daughter up from school everyday but today she is having some car problems. Today I get to see how my daughter reacts to this delayed pick up. I’m prayerful.

  36. With this comment we officially have a trend. Three daughter comments in a row. Though I have understood the value of being grateful and present to each moment on an empirical level it was easy to forget as I moved from one day to the next. Since the birth of my daughter in March of this year I have put this knowledge to practice. Though I went to bed after 1 am this morning when my daughter awoke at before 5 and my wife asked for my help I quietly was thankful for the opportunity to be with her. As I rocked her in her nursery she reached up with a sleepy arm and touched my face. In that moment there was no other place I wanted to be.

    I know that “interruptions” will be a constant part of my days ahead. I choose to handle them with the thankfulness for what they are. Life itself. Thank you Jeff for sharing your powerful insights on this topic. I look forward to reading your books.

  37. Today’s inconvenience was my bicycle breaking down (my only means of transport). At first, I was just grateful for the fact that this happened just in front of the repair shop, and that it didn’t happen on a work day. Walking home from the shop, and later the same day back to fetch my repaired bike, I felt grateful for the slow walking, allowing me te see and experience more. The old Simon and Garfunkel song came to mind: “Hello lamp post, watcha knowing, I come to see your flowers growing […] feeling groovy”.

  38. I thank for the ageing and death.. for their reminders of our own lives being an ‘interuption’ in the universe.. let’s make it a grateful interruption…

  39. My anxiety, made me see all my weakness and slow me down in this fast-paced life. now I have time to read the books that were dusting in our bookshelf. it gave me time to get to know the people in my inner circle, and most importantly it gave me the opportunity to shut-off all the excuses I have not to start writing. My anxiety opened the opportunity to be venerable and write about my venerability.

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