Pick up any self-help book, and it’ll tell you that an “attitude of gratitude” is the key to changing your life. Gratitude shifts your focus from the negative to the positive, they say. It will alter your mindset and make you happier. I don’t disagree, but I’d like to suggest that there’s more to it — another level, perhaps. Of all the lessons I learned from my beloved mentor, this one is the most valuable.
It was early in the morning, too early for the beating Texas sun to have reached full steam. I pulled my car into my usual spot and put it in park; I was early. First time for everything, I thought. I grabbed my Bible, my binder and my coffee and headed to the picnic table under the shelter of the pavilion. My mentor joined me just a few moments later, and we began.
As I relayed the struggles of the past week, her forehead wrinkled in concern. She was always appropriately compassionate — never indifferent and certainly not harsh, but she never babied or fussed over me either. I deeply appreciated this perfectly balanced way of caring for me. She listened attentively as I spoke, and then she paused. Finally a slight smile emerged, and she asked, “What brings you joy?”
“Joy?!” I was stunned! Weren’t we just talking about struggle?
“Yes, joy. What brings you joy?” She reached across the table and patted my binder. “Write it down.”
Slowly, I opened my binder and readied my pen. What brings me joy? I have no earthly clue. Unable to come up with a single answer, I began to feel a little defensive. “I don’t really know what to write,” I insisted. “I don’t think you can put a finger on what exactly brings joy.”
Unfazed, she waited. Darn, she was good! My mind was racing, frantically searching for an answer.
“Well, I guess my dog, Linc, brings me joy. I love watching him run free in the park — that big smile on his face! It always makes me smile too.”
“Okay, good.” she said. “Linc brings you joy. Write it down.”
“What else?” she asked. I shook my head and sheepishly shrugged.
“Okay,” she said. “Keep thinking about it. Keep this list with you this week, and each time you feel joy, write it down.”
I left that meeting with a fresh awareness of my negativity. Why couldn’t I name just two things that bring me joy? A bit disturbed, I resolved to do better. When I met with my mentor again the following week, I proudly read my growing list of things that bring me joy: the stillness and peace of the early morning hours, the satisfaction of finding the perfect word for a blooming sentence, the forest, the smell of freshly baked cupcakes, the wind.
My mentor raised her eyebrows in surprise. “The wind?” she asked.
“I love the wind!” I explained, “The feeling as it surrounds me, the sound of the trees rustling, even the smell of it.”
She smiled, obviously pleased. “Funny you should mention that. It’s on my list too.”
“Nikki, do you know why I asked you to think about what brings you joy?”
God only knows, I thought. I shrugged my shoulders and took my best guess. “To help me focus on the positive?”
“Sort of,” she said. “Joy is from the Lord.”
Joy is from the Lord … As we talked it over, the full depth of that statement became clear. The point of this exercise was not to highlight my negativity, or to motivate me to adopt a more positive attitude. The point was to see God in every good thing because “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17 NASB). Moments of joy were designed to be shared with the Creator and Giver of all good things. They remind you that God is present with you right now. He is delighting in your delight!
Just then, a gentle breeze blew through and fluttered the edge of my list. As I steadied my paper, the word “wind” caught my eye. I looked up at my mentor, and we laughed again. Thank you, Lord!
Years later, I am still surprised by the life-changing power of this simple truth. It is so much more than an attitude of gratitude. The real value of gratitude is to recognize whom you are thanking. When I feel the wind on my face, watch my beloved dog run free, bask in the stillness and peace of the early morning, or experience any of the thousands of gifts from God that bring me joy, I am reminded that He cares for me. I smile and say, “Thank you, Lord.”