You have a secret weapon in fighting for joy.
As a pastor, counseling people in trouble is a regular part of my life. I counsel teenagers, singles, married couples, 20 somethings, empty nesters, and all points in between. Most people who come for counseling are not joyful–that’s often what drives them to seek counseling in the first place.
There are a few standard practices I prescribe for every person who comes for counseling. I make sure they are regularly worshipping with their church family. I encourage them to join a small group where they can receive more personal, intentional soul care. I challenge them to spend time meditating on God’s Word each day and I make sure they are reading a book that helps them swim in the sweet depths of the gospel. These things are the “eat right, sleep enough, and exercise” of the soul’s fitness. It’s hard to be healthy without them and getting those things right almost always leads to immediate improvement in spiritual health.
But the more I have counseled the more I have seen that one element of the Christian walk is overlooked but is immensely powerful in improving soul health: thankfulness. Developing the daily discipline of being a thankful person is joy’s secret weapon.
Gratitude breeds joy.
If you want more joy in your life, strive to be a person that is thankful. I’m not just talking about a passing realization that you have much for which you should be thankful. I mean cultivating an active perspective on the world that you have so much more than you deserve and have a great deal of things that, were you to dwell upon them for more than a moment, would show you how blessed you truly are. And when you see how blessed you are, joy triumphs over bitterness, anxiety, sorrow, and anger.
Here are four reasons why being thankful leads to more joy:
1. Gratitude lifts your perspective to God. Being thankful begins with thinking about what God has done for us. “Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all of his benefits” (Psalm 103:2). In God’s presence is fulness of joy and pleasure forevermore, so the more you think about him and set your gaze on all that he is for you in Christ, the more joy you will have.
2. Gratitude dissolves conflict. Are you at odds with someone else? Start meditating on all the ways that their life benefits your own. It is hard to hold a grudge against someone for which you are so thankful. And when conflict melts away from your life, joy replaces it. I would say that 90% of the counseling cases I receive involve some kind of conflict with another person that is draining and frustrating. Can you imagine the joy you would have if you were thankful for every person you regularly encountered?
3. Gratitude takes your eyes off the negative. I’m prone to pessimism and exaggeration. When things are not going well, I tend to believe the worst and then turn the knob up to make it worse than it really is. But rainy days make the flowers grow. If we look at what good is still true even in the rain or if we choose to dwell on what good may come out of a bad situation, we can have joy not only in spite of difficulty but because of it. It’s hard to be joyful when you stare at the clouds but when you fixate on the flowers in bloom, you can be thankful for the rain.
4. Gratitude defines how you were created to be. We were created to glorify God and we are redeemed to live a life of praise that give thanks to God through Christ (Hebrews 13:15). Complaining and pessimism is a sinful distortion of who we should be as those created in the image of God. When our mouths are full of praise and thanksgiving, we are living in light of who we were created to be and as we live as we were made to live, we find joy.
May our hearts and lips be filled with praise today. And may gratitude breed a God-glorifying joy in our lives.