It’s been a helluva year.
Powerful men in every walk of life, from politics to government to entertainment to journalism, have been accused of sexual assault. Even National Public Radio, that bastion of rationalism, has been hard hit. We have endured two more mass murders—one at a Las Vegas concert and one in the Sutherland Springs TX Baptist Church. Before that, multiple hurricanes battered the Gulf Coast and shattered communities. While Texas and Florida are making a decent recovery, much of Puerto Rico is still without power. Depressing displays of white supremacy made the headlines. And all this is just in the last 3 months or so. In the background of it all is the wearying stream of distracting tweets, bullying posts and head-scratching opinions coming from the White House.
Is this really a year to be grateful?
The answer is, surprisingly, yes. It’s not just that these difficulties often bring out the best in us. It’s this: cultivating an attitude of gratitude puts us in the legion of saints, and in the realm of the divine.
It’s easy to cultivate gratitude when things are going well. It’s a natural response to bounty and blessing. Yet, gratitude doesn’t require any extra muscle or intentionality when things are going well. However, gratitude is an exceptional response when life is bleak, when things aren’t going your way, and when you can’t quite imagine how good could come of a situation.
Still not convinced? Here are five God-sized reasons to be grateful:
- Gratitude makes us more like God. Being grateful when the chips are down forces us to seek out what is right in the world. It requires a great deal of intentionality which in turn builds the muscle of unconditional love. Here’s what I mean. God’s love for us does not falter when we make mistakes, upset others, or wreak havoc. It doesn’t even falter when we do evil. It’s unconditional—it doesn’t require a certain set of conditions to be activated. It’s simply and eternally constant. When we are able to practice gratitude in the midst of tough circumstances, we begin to enter into the realm of the divine.
- Gratitude honors free will. Free will is a signature dynamic of the universe. God doesn’t force any of us to do “right” or to do “good” or let God in to our lives. Neither can we force others to do our will, or to act according to the norms or beliefs we uphold. Practicing gratitude in the midst of annoyingly free will allows us to move into a higher flow of the universe. It doesn’t mean we abandon our standards. It does mean that we honor the free will of others to do the same.
- Gratitude increases the light. Sure, it’s been a tough year for a lot of us in a lot of ways. But in each life impacted by loss, grief, evil, insensitivity or just plain stupidity—there were also transcendent moments and blissful blessings. To focus only on the dark obliterates the light. The more we focus on what is lovely and good and beautiful, the more of it there is to focus on.
- Gratitude hands us the keys to the kingdom. When we cultivate an attitude of gratitude in the tough years, it reminds us of the constancy of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is still near. It is still at hand. It is still within. And the doors are still open. Each of us has the choice to cultivate a Kingdom consciousness, regardless of the circumstances around us.
- Worry weakens; gratitude strengthens. Constant worry and fear tear down our ability to be strong for the long haul. They weaken our ability to counteract injustice, and to stand for a better future. Gratitude, on the other hand, strengthens the immune system, clarifies the mind, and grounds the spirit.
It’s okay this year to revel in what is good in the world. It’s more than okay to dwell on the blessings you have received and made possible for others this year. In fact, it’s a necessity. The work of gratitude allows us to amplify the love in the world. Consider it the perfect counterbalance to the energy we’ll need in the coming months and years to speak up for justice, act with courage, speak up for the common good, and to envision a life-giving future.