Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a Psychology professor who studies gratitude, defines gratitude with two stages: (1) affirming goodness in one's life and (2) recognizing that the sources of this goodness lies at least partially outside the self.
At its primal level, gratitude is something nearly everyone experiences (particularly in the first stage). Most of us recognize and are encouraged by the good things that happen in our lives, even without intentionally trying to do so. Yet, gratitude as a spiritual habit reshapes our entire perspective in life and allows us to not only affirm the goodness in our lives but recognize that the source of this goodness is ultimately our Heavenly Father (James 1:16-17).
Jesus modeled gratitude to us by giving thanks in all circumstances. In fact, we see Jesus showing appreciation for God's watchfulness over creation, even little sparrows and wildflowers (Matthew 6:26-30). We see him thank God for providing food (Luke 24:30), for listening to him (John 11:41), and for the opportunity to minister to others (Matthew 14:19, 15:36). Jesus began and ended his prayers with gratitude to his Father and taught his followers to do the same (Matthew 6:9-13). He even thanked God for the opportunity to sacrifice his life for the world (Matthew 26:26-27).
May we begin to practice gratitude by seeing the goodness in our lives and recognizing the source of that goodness.
The best way to create any sustainable habits is to start with a small, achievable goal and to build from there. Begin with thinking of three aspects of your day that you are thankful for before going to bed.
A very practical way to be able to reflect on the things you have been thankful for over the previous week or month is to simply write it down. Try to keep a journal that you will be able to reflect on at the end of the week so you can remember all the things you are thankful in your life. This helps develop a grateful mindset.
Many of us struggle with being grateful because we are too busy comparing our lives to others or simply thinking about all the things we are not or that we don't have. Focus on the talents, resources and relationships that you do have and you will find gratitude much easier to maintain.
For some of us, an attitude of gratitude is simply going to be tough to develop. A good way to initiate this is to learn from others who are grateful. Befriend them, study them and ask them lots of questions about how they have developed their perspective of thanksgiving.
Every night at dinner, have your kids write down on a sticky note one thing or person that they are thankful for that day. Share it with the family and put it in the jar. Pull the notes out weekly to reflect on the things everyone was thankful for. Make it fun and decorate the jar to create more buy-in for the kids.