Learning to Consider Gratitude a Discipline


“Be intent upon the perfection of the present day.” – William Law.

Thankfulness absolutely matters.

  • A thankful heart breeds contentment. It appreciates the many gifts of life itself.
  • A thankful heart promotes optimism. Optimism leads to enthusiasm and determination.
  • A thankful heart brings healthy attentiveness. It finds time to slow down and count blessings.
  • A thankful heart shifts the focus of attention from ourselves to others. It understands that our lives have been enriched by them.
  • A thankful heart is more likely to help others. It humbly realizes it has benefited from others and as a result, is more apt to notice needs.
  • A thankful heart attracts generous people and faithful friends.
  • Studies have found that gratitude results in better physical health and mental awareness.
  • Gratitude heightens enjoyment of the good seasons of life. And provides strength to make it through the difficult ones.

Unfortunately, gratitude can be finicky. There are seasons of life where gratitude is easy.

When your home is warm… when you are eating a delicious meal… when your child’s report card is impressive… when everything is lining up exactly as you envisioned, it’s really easy to be thankful.

But other times, it remains elusive. When the storms of life hit—as they always do—thankfulness doesn’t come so quickly.

It is hard to be thankful when your world is crashing down. And yet, those are the days we need it most—those are the seasons of life when its strength, optimism, and perspective carry us through.

But when thankfulness is most needed, it is often the most distant.

This reality is because we have mistakenly begun to consider gratitude an emotion of the heart, as just another response to our circumstance. When things are going well, it’s easy to respond with a thankful heart. But in the seasons where things are difficult, thankfulness never even enters our mind.

We would fare better if we learned to consider gratitude a discipline of the heart—one that requires attention and consistent practice.

Gratitude requires practice when it’s easy and even more practice when it’s difficult. And the more we train ourselves to that end, the more we are able to access it when we most require it.

Some helpful thoughts to spur us on in this new discipline of the heart may include scheduling 5-minute periods of thoughtful thanksgiving each day, intentionally finding gratitude in simple joys, reflecting on the past (particularly if your current season of life is a stormy one), keeping a gratitude journal (on-paper or on-line), expressing thankfulness during life’s little inconveniences (red lights, doctor waits), or seeking the perfection of each day.

This can become a truly life-altering designation. Gratitude is, after all, a discipline, not an emotion.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Sherri Dunham | The Budding Lotus says

    Such a great post. It really ties in with the importance of being present: if we not stop to be present then how can we stop to cultivate gratitude in the moment? Such an important skill. Thank you!

  2. Kathleen says

    This is a practice I need to get back into. I remember how…. content it helped me feel, even in the hard times. Thank you for your wonderful post and blog.

  3. Kandy Chimento says

    Great post!! Many of my friends and I are doing “30 Days of Thankful” wherein we post something we are grateful for on facebook during the 30 days before Thanksgiving. It is really helpful, as you suggest, to get our minds and thoughts off of ourselves and onto others, and to develop the discipline of thankfulness.


  4. says

    Thank you for this post. I think we all know that gratitude is powerful, but just like most things in life you have to do it in order to reap the benefits. I like the classification of it being a “discipline”

    I’m linking to this in my next inspiration buffet. Thanks again.

  5. says

    Wonderful post. When our lives were falling apart a few years ago due a devastating illness, I began to keep a thank you journal. It helped SO MUCH to see that God was answering many prayers (even though our main prayer for health “seemed” to go unanswered). Gratitude, as you said, kept me hopeful and expectant.

  6. says

    I love this! I just did a post on a young American girl who left everything and moved to Uganda. Seeing all the orphans she has adopted 14 children! Puts things in perspective for me and gives me more gratitude. Another great post!

  7. jennifer says

    i am grateful for the reminder that this post is – timely for the general season as well as my own personal “season.” i have also given this topic some thought in regard to teaching gratitude to my young children. the concept of a discipline rather than an emotion makes so much more sense and makes the thought of teaching it make more sense too. thank you.

  8. Liz says

    This topic goes beautifully with minimalism. I started a gratitude journal at the beginning of the year. As I look back on what I wrote, whether in good times or bad, I am most grateful for the experiences I’ve had with friends, family and co-workers. Nothing to do with accumulating more stuff. I’ve also found it a wonderful way to affirm others…whenever I mentioned to a person they have made it into my gratitude journal, they are very humbled and pleasantly surprised. I can almost see them glow from the inside out.

  9. says

    I was just thinking that I wanted to dedicate this month to being thankful, being grateful. Not that it shouldn’t be all year. I am just a little disgusted with the fact that the emphasis is now already on the Christmas season (which is important in and of itself) and they seemed to skip over the fact that this is the month of Thanksgiving. I love the idea that we implement it as a discipline in our lives. That we put into practice this month and keep in our hearts all year.
    5 things to do while waiting in life’s hallways

  10. Mark says

    As a person with severe Fibromyaligia, I’ve been
    Forced to “take five”, and I gotta be truthful I can’t look at this with gratitude. Whenever I do
    view with eyes of gratitude is usually short
    lived. I understand what you are saying, but is
    your column written fit only those that enjoy
    perfect health. You did not say that but, from where I’m sitting it seems that way. I don’t want
    to appear negative but, I’m hurting tonight,
    and I’ll be damned if I can find anything that
    fills me with gratitude, tomorrow I could be singing a different tune. My situation does not
    make your blog any less truthful. Someone always has it worse, and someone always has it better.

    • says

      … do you have an understanding circle of friends? Do you have health insurance? Do you have your thoughts? Your family….? I too suffer severe health set backs but still somehow I have to agree … there is much to be grateful for. My mind is still intact – for that I am very grateful.

    • Meg says

      Hi Mark,
      I successfully treated my fibromyalgia with a supplement called Acetyl l Carnitine. It’s used by body builders to metabolise fat and works by stimulating the mitocondria of your cells. I also took up yoga and improved my diet. It was not a quick cure but the supplements made a huge difference to my pain, energy and mood.

      I have recently been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. It has uncharacteristically metastasised within my breast rather than spreading to other parts of my body. It’s possible that my fibromyalgia and corresponding slow cell activity has caused this. The condition I hated may have saved my life. Time will tell.

      I am so grateful.

      When the pain gets bad I am grateful that I am alive to feel it. It sure beats the alternative.

      May you find your way back to good health.

  11. says

    I loved this post. Along these lines, my dad taught me a mantra at a very young age I still say today. “Thanks for everything, I have no complaints. Whatsoever.” I say this every evening as I lie in bed, no matter how bad the day was, and then reflect on what I’m thankful for. I’ve found through the years this has altered my thinking in the moment too. I immediately look for the positive, or if I can’t find it, think about the big picture and how life has greater plans for us than we can imagine. I’m ok accepting that one day I may have loss, or sacrifice, or pain, but in return something else somewhere else is taking place that makes my experiences worthwhile. I believe we’re all interconnected in this way, and am grateful.

  12. says

    Taking those 5 minutes before you fall asleep (as you fall asleep) has the added benefit of increasing the quality of your sleep. Gratitude relaxes. At the risk of sounding like a crazy dog person – a dog is the best teacher of living in the moment, being minimalistic and always having time for gratitude. :)

  13. Janete Canteri says

    I always read your blog and I follow you in the facebook. I love your words. Keep writing and inspiring us.

  14. Sarah says

    You mentioned two words which are rarely used in America these days…gratitude and discipline. I will try to have an attitude of gratitude today. Thanks for reminding me.

  15. says

    This post is changing my life for the better.
    Thank you thank you thank you.
    So simple and profound.
    I’m committed to practice gratitude.

  16. says

    Gratitude is such an important discipline.

    A couple of years ago I started a photographing gratitude journal on my Facebook page. Every Sunday I would post seven photos of things that I was grateful for that week. This kept me thinking all week about gratitude and made me focus on the joy in every day. Often I had to choose from more than seven things at the end of the week.

    Now I’ve been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and my gratitude discipline in my greatest weapon. I’m staying positive and using everything I’ve learnt to help me fight this battle.

    Your words are a constant source of inspiration to me. Thank you so much for sharing them.

    • PSky says

      Your idea of a photography gratitude journal is superb!! I’m a dabbling photographer wannabe! – And this is a great way to practice AND improve my outlook! Thank you for sharing that! I would love to use your idea, if that’s ok?
      I have had multiple family members who have had to battle breast cancer – I would say “good luck” in your battle, but I don’t believe in “luck” – so I will say God-speed to you! May your journey be deep and rich!

  17. Dogwod says

    As I read this HUGELY EMPOWERING and WISE piece on gratitude I can’t help but recall being admonished to “Guard our hearts for it is the wellspring of life.”

    Proverbs 4:23-26 instructs believers to “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.”

    With what I see rampant in today’s population, people being: offended, complaining, negative perspectives, arguments, anger, self centeredness, self righteousness, bitterness, harboring unforgiveness, it’s obvious most aren’t guarding their hearts. They are not operating under gratitude. The results are obvious. There is no comparison: joy, faith, hope, love, wisdom, kindness, generousity, OR darkness/depresssion, fear, excessive pride, lack, ungratefulness, despair, hate…DO NOT be fooled! DO NOT accept a cheap counterfit that leads to destruction.

    Ponder the results of a thankful heart and gratitude as given above. I like those results rather than the results of being unthankful and ungrateful. FIND PLACE ALWAYS FOR GRATITUDE.

    • Christine says

      Beautiful! I am printing this off so that I may read it daily and then begin to live and love by these words.
      Thank you!

  18. Maria del Corral says

    Joshua, I have really benefitted from your insight this year. I just want to to express my admiration and gratitude. THANK YOU! I love minimalism, a simple life, being present, and being grateful.

    Merry Christmas!


  19. Adan Carrillo says

    Thanks for changing the way I look at life and my circumstances. Your blog and this type of posts have truly made a difference in the way I approach life everyday. Sure, I still need practice but I certainly have a better attitude towards life in general than I did even a year ago.

  20. says

    Terrific post – it is easy to become complacent and take things for granted in our daily lives. When gratitude becomes a discipline than it can be a comfort to us when times are tough.
    With gratitude…..

    • Diane says

      Hi Tamara,
      Through your fear, will come the strength to face each treatment.
      It is a journey of strength, hold on.it will be ok. I am a survivor of 15yrs…will pray every day for your healing.” Diane

  21. ren says

    Thankful for healthy children, and loviig man in my life. Struggling w a teenagers attitude, but w partner to share burden, so much easier to bear. I’m truly blessed woman.

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Gratitude. It Matters. | November 22, 2012

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