Cultivating lives of Gratitude and Thanksgiving

As we start 2021, with its fresh calendar, here are a few ways we can start to cultivate a life of gratitude and thanksgiving.

It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy.”

— Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk

It’s been an unusual year for all of us. During the past year, I had two daughters get married, my momma went to be with Jesus, we sold our childhood home back in Ontario, my son moved to the U.S., my daughter in Switzerland told us we are going to be grandparents, and I was working hard in my role at TWU as we sought to encourage our families during these uncertain days. And this is just my year. What about you?

It’s been overwhelming at times. Grief. Loss. And joy. So very grateful for that joy. And grateful for the reminders over and over in Scripture to give thanks in ALL circumstances. (1 Thess 5:18). All circumstances means during good times. It means those times when folks don’t express gratitude for things you’ve done for them. And it means choosing to be grateful when things are tough. . . like when the world is in lockdown and nothing really makes sense. Like now.

I believe there is a difference between gratitude and thanksgiving. Gratitude is an appreciation for the things we have been given. While thanksgiving requires an object to give thanks to, and for Christians, that is God, the giver of all our gifts.

If we are to give thanks in all circumstances, then how does one cultivate a life of gratitude?  As we start 2021, with its fresh calendar, here are a few ways we can start to cultivate a life of gratitude and thanksgiving.


  1. Start a gratitude journal – don’t write daily, but do add to it regularly. When you remember those things you are thankful for, write out specifically that thing or person you are grateful for. Writing down things you are grateful for helps you both recognize those things, and to remember those things. Remember when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me”? I think it’s because we, as humans, simply forget. We forget what others have done for us, even just yesterday. And we forget what Jesus did for us years ago. Writing down our gratitude helps us remember. Do you want to be a grateful person? Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, says we need to “remember to remember.”
  1. Fast. This is a spiritual discipline and not something that we do easily. We often take for granted those things we have. If we do without something for a period of time, it can often make us more thankful for that thing. Food is the typical thing we fast from, and we sure are thankful for it when we get to eat again! But it could be fasting from social media, Netflix, or any other things that we tend to give too much attention to. Once you break that fast, you tend to be more thankful afterwards.
  1. Write thank you notes. Writing a personal thank you note not only blesses the one who receives it, but also yourself when you write it. It reminds you of the kindness and generosity of the one you are thanking. 
  1. Say thank you regularly. Saying thank you means more than you will know. I’m a parent, and I know that making meals is something I have done regularly, often without thanks. But when my kids say “Thanks mom”, for a meal, something inside me bursts with joy and makes me feel so good, that I can’t wait to make them an even better meal tomorrow. Say thank you to anyone who did what was expected of them, and of those who went above and beyond. It just makes everyone feel better.
  1. Serve others. When you use your gifts to serve others, whether this is in your community, church, or family, you are actually sharing your God-given gifts and talents that you have been given to benefit the world around you.


A final thought, in the midst of a pandemic, a final reason why we should be grateful: it will help you stay healthy! Researchers have found that practicing gratitude has many health-related benefits, including helping boost the immune system, bolster resilience to stress, and lower depression.


So be grateful and stay healthy!

“Cultivating and then expressing gratitude thus starts a web of virtue; it spreads goodness like a very positive contagion that can literally transform families, workplaces, communities, and the world at large. That’s an idea based not on a woo-woo hippie platitude, but a concrete, empirically proven effect.” (The Spiritual Disciplines)

Janice Nikkel is Director of TWU Parent & Family Network. She was born in Mississauga, O.N. and grew up in Oakville, O.N. She came west to attend TWU at age 18. After getting married, she and her husband lived in Richmond for five years, and have now lived at Poplar Hill Farm in Langley for the past 23 years.