Most everything we do in life is preceded by a series of choices. The ability to choose is unique to humanity. It is the transformational process of life that effects change and is the only element by which our direction is controlled. Anything worthwhile requires a decision, a choice that we must make in order to progress. For the peaceful person, choices run parallel to actions. If we choose well, more than likely, we will act well and the outcome will be good. If we choose wrongly, we will act wrongly and the outcome will match that choice.
The story is told of a young boy who had been abandoned by his parents. After moving from foster home to foster home an elderly couple took him in when he was twelve-years-old and raised him as their own child. He was fairly good, got into very little trouble, did well in school, and graduated from high school a year early. His adoptive parents put him through college and proudly watched him graduate at the top of his law school class. By twenty-eight, he had his own law firm in New York City, got married, became a father, and was the picture of success.
However, after a series of poor choices, financial mismanagement, and corporate neglect, he filed for bankruptcy at thirty-six years old. He lost nearly everything he had worked so hard for. To go along with his career failure, his wife was ready to file for divorce, and his only child had been diagnosed with leukemia.
One day, he decided to go back home to see his adoptive parents and to bemoan his terrible situation. As he turned the corner to enter the driveway, his father was already standing outside, and instantly knew there was a problem. Later that evening, the bankrupt lawyer complained to his parents that he had lost everything including hope, and he was no longer happy in life. His father asked, ‘weren’t you happy when you had it all?’ The man said, ‘Yes, very much so.’ The father then replied, ‘Well, happiness is a choice. We may not always have stuff, but we can always have happiness if we choose it.’
Gratitude, like happiness, is a choice. We may not always have stuff, but we can always choose to be grateful. It is often easy to focus on what we do not have, what we have lost, or even on what other people have that we wish we had. A heart of gratitude, however, does not focus on what it does not have or on what it perceives it does not have. It does not look at what other people have and wish it were theirs either. Ultimately, the happy person knows that gratitude is a choice, not based on the material things we have or based on the good times we experience. Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
God has given each of us the ability to choose our response to all circumstances. The choice to be grateful is always present before us. In every situation, whether good or bad, we are given the ability to choose how we respond. Choosing to be grateful involves not only our actions, but our reactions to other people and situations. It is easier to base our life on the immediate situation, but it is never better. Many times, we don’t see things work out because our reaction is wrong, our perspective is distorted, and our thoughts are negative instead of positive.
We use just as much energy to respond negatively to difficult situations as we would use if we responded positively. Everybody can be happy when things are wonderful, but it takes a conscious decision to choose happiness in times that are not so favorable. The power we have and the ability we have to choose never changes, therefore, our ability to be grateful should never change. Gratitude is for all times. There are no higher levels of gratitude in good times and lower levels in other times. The choice to be grateful is ours to make each day at all times.
We make choices that correlate with our thought pattern. Most of us, if we are in our right mind, we think rationally and act accordingly. The people who express the most gratitude are those who choose to accept every situation as it is. We find humble peace in knowing that we have more of the good things we want by being thankful for whatever we have. If we choose to think of our situation in positive terms, by finding the good in everything, we will find ourselves choosing to be thankful right where we are, for whom we have in our lives, and what we are doing.
Choice is a powerful tool in the arsenal of humanity. It is a mighty weapon on the battlefield of life. Our survival and success in the world hinges upon the choices we make each and everyday.
Perhaps, we went to an exotic island for three weeks and everything was absolutely perfect – you had money, good food, a beautiful place to stay, and all the amenities you needed at your disposal. Seemingly, when you’re in this wonderful place, you have no problems to solve, conflicts to resolve, bills to pay, or broken relationships to fix. This place is peaceful and you are grateful for the tranquility that calms your soul. Now, let’s say you’re back at home. You don’t necessarily have everything you need. Seemingly, when you’re at home, problems come out of nowhere all the time, the house must be cleaned, children must be dressed each morning and taken to school, bills are high, money is low, life is hectic, and you have to make a mad dash every morning to a job you don’t particularly like. In contrast to the peaceful exotic island we were in a minute ago, this place called home is noisy and dysfunctional and you are not particularly happy or grateful.
Was it the place that made you happy and grateful or was it your state of mind in the place that determined this for you? The choices we make change when our thoughts change. Perhaps, the peaceful, happy, grateful person on the exotic island could be the same peaceful, happy, grateful person in the noisy, busy house. The choice to be grateful is not based on location or situation, instead, it’s based on our minds and how we choose to think about our location or our situation. If we choose to embody gratitude it does not matter whether our situation is good or bad. We can make the choice to make a right decision in a bad situation.
Sometimes, we fail to choose gratitude. Oftentimes, our situations are not ideal. We may think others have it better than we do. In truth, that’s not the case, but we think it is. Getting more stuff or going more places will never make us grateful, just like those things can never make us happy. When we fail to choose gratitude, we forfeit the life of joy and peace that is available to all of us. This is the life God has created for us to live. If we don’t choose gratitude, we will, by default, choose ingratitude. We can be as grateful as we make up our minds to be.
The story is told of a man who gave his two sons each a bucket of sand that contained small iron pieces. After sifting their hands through the sand for a while, one boy began to complain that he wasn’t finding anything. The other boy, however, ran off and found a square magnet. When he returned, he began to drag the magnet through the sand and the small iron pieces attached themselves to it. While the little boy who complained found nothing at all, the little boy with the magnet found more than he needed.
You see, there is a mighty difference between grumbling and gratitude. When we choose to grumble and complain, we forfeit blessings that would otherwise come our way. We distance the many good things and sometimes, even good people, that could come into our lives because we choose grumbling over gratitude. When we choose gratitude, however, not only do we find blessings, but strangely, blessings find us.
As the story shows, we can be murmurers or we can be magnets. We can choose to look at the bright side or the dark side of every situation. If we sift through the sand of life, complaining that we can’t find anything or we can’t do anything, then we will get exactly what the first boy got — nothing. But if we choose to be grateful for the sand we have in life, we will find a way to get those iron pieces. We will not only find blessings as the second boy did, but blessings will find us. Often when we’re not looking for something, our gratitude for everything we already have will bring blessings in our direction.
The Bible tells the story of Paul and Silas in Acts 16:16-34. Paul and Silas were preaching the Gospel of Christ in Philippi, but some of the government leaders did not like it, and so they threw them in prison. Now, most of us, if we are honest, would admit that if we were thrown into prison for no fault of our own, we would be upset, angry, grumbling and complaining before we even arrived at the prison. The book of Acts tells us, however, that Paul and Silas did none of these things. Sure, in their human mind, they knew they were innocent and perhaps, were disappointed that their plans were interrupted. But they did not grumble or complain about their current unfortunate state.
Do you know what they did? They chose to express gratitude. They began to sing and praise God. Acts 16:25 says, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Their attitude was one of gratefulness, not because they wanted to be in that situation, but because they chose to be content in whatever state they were in. They chose to put their minds outside of their jail cells and above their present predicament. What they were going through did not determine their level of gratitude or contentment.
No matter where we find ourselves or what situation we are in, we can make the choice to be grateful. The more we are grateful for our situation as it is, the faster the door will open for our situation to get better. Acts 16:26 says, “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” Paul and Silas were freed not because they fought for it, but because they made a decision to praise God in the good times and in the bad times. Gratitude opens up opportunities for good things to come into our lives.
The more appreciative we are of our place in life, the money we have, the house we live in, the job we have right now, at this very moment, the more we are able to walk on the pathway to real abundance and joy. Our life is dictated by the choices we make. We create the life we want to live by our daily decisions. Gratitude does not come automatically, it must be a conscious decision. We have to purposely express thankfulness for the sunshine and the rain, the good and the bad, the big and the small, and everything else in between. We all can appreciate life more if we make a strong decision to show gratitude at every opportunity.
Daniella Whyte is the vice president of GLM Omnimedia Group, LLC. She is an author, blogger, and podcaster. She holds a B.S. in Psychology (minor in Counseling), a B.S. in Religion, a Master’s Degree in Human Services Counseling – Executive Leadership, and a Master’s Degree in Developmental Psychology from Liberty University.