The Power of Gratitude

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Expressing gratitude by saying "thank you" is a profound and simple act, but has it become a forgotten art?

Thanksgiving seems like the appropriate time to reflect on all the things we are thankful for.

But those thoughts can often be fleeting as we become consumed with holiday travel plans and meals of turkey topped off with pumpkin pie, followed by the tryptophan sleepiness that will render us replete before the football game of the day.

So before you start scheduling your trip and making a mental list of all of the things you're thankful for, let's first examine the source of our thankfulness.

The True Source of Thankfulness

We're reminded in Scripture again and again about God's goodness:

  • "Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever" (Psalm 107:1).
  • "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift" (2 Corinthians 9:15).

When we are truly grateful for God's power at work in us and God's gift of life, we cannot contain this joy. From this thankfulness comes an outpouring of gratitude that is contagious, infectious and life-giving to those around us.

In an online Christianity Today interview on his book Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning said, "When somebody is aware of [God's] love, the same love that the Father has for Jesus, that person is just spontaneously grateful. Cries of thankfulness become the dominant characteristic of the interior life, and the by-product of gratitude is joy. We're not joyful and then become grateful; we're grateful and that makes us joyful."

How Do You Express Thanks?

This joy, an outgrowth of our gratitude, also inspires us to act and to utter, in word or in deed, two very powerful words—"thank you." 

Knowing exactly how to express those two words can be unique to each situation and to each person. Perhaps you've wondered how to best give thanks when more than words are necessary. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, express to your friends, family, roommate, coworkers and mentors just how much they mean to you.

In his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman shares that we express our love and appreciation for others in the way we like to have love shown to us.

Different personalities show love in different ways through five specific love languages: quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts and physical touch. Learning someone's love language is a unique lens for conveying gratitude. While giving a wrapped gift or a physical pat on the back are often our default expressions of thanks, move beyond autopilot by considering some of these ideas.

How to Show Gratitude with Quality Time

Rather than giving a store-bought present to show gratitude, offer the gift of your time. Quality time can be expressed in a conversation over a cup of coffee, where you really take time to listen and dig beneath the surface.

Thankfulness can also be conveyed through time spent enjoying an activity together. "The emphasis is not on what you are doing but on why you are doing it," Chapman said. And sometimes that means doing things that you don't necessarily enjoy.

Krista, 35, of Santa Barbara, Calif., has learned that the gift of time is the perfect way to express thanks to her mom.

"When I've promised to spend the day with my mom and help her with computer issues, she feels blessed," Krista said. "I also have to promise that I'll be patient, because patience is not one of my gifts."

How to Express Gratitude with Your Words

Showing appreciation for someone can also be expressed through words of affirmation and encouragement. Whether written in a card or expressed verbally, the dialect of affirmation has the power to restore and deepen any relationship.

Before John, 31, from Morgan Hill, Calif., was diagnosed with cancer, he would often bring smiles and laughter to his friends. "When I was going through chemotherapy and really struggling, people would come by my house and decorate my driveway with Bible verses, drawings and special quotes that made me smile and laugh. It seems they wanted to return the favor."

John's friends articulated their gratitude for his friendship in such a tangible way that John's neighbors were even able to witness God's love in action.

How to Show Gratitude Through Service

Do you have the gift of hospitality? Do you like to cook or fix things? Are you a lean, mean, cleaning and organizing machine? Rather than mailing a thank-you card, consider expressing your gratitude for others through an act of service, utilizing your own special gifts.

To thank his friends for always opening up their bachelor pad for dinners and social functions, Carl, 36, from Silicon Valley, Calif., decided to surprise his compadres by fixing up their neglected bachelor bathroom. He bought new towels and a shower curtain and scrubbed down the entire lavatory to a "Mr. Clean" shine.

Adah, 40, of Mountain View, Calif., thanked a mentor couple in her church community group by surprising them with breakfast and fresh flowers when they returned from a long vacation, knowing they'd be too exhausted to go to the store after their long flight.

Whether you show your gratitude through a hug, a gift, quality time, encouraging words or service, learning someone's primary love language is an incredible way to say "thanks."

Marlene Baer is thankful for public transportation, coffee shops on every corner and Google Maps. She also thinks her family and friends are pretty great.