How to Be Grateful When You Don’t Feel Like It

I have to admit, I have a love-hate relationship with gratitude. Partly because of my religious upbringing, and partly because I struggle with taking on too much. When I hear the command, “Be grateful,” I sometimes feel resentment or even anger creeping up in me.

Growing up in Christian Science, I experienced the religion’s emphasis on false gratitude practice as a way of healing yourself. Similar to “name it, claim it” in the health and wealth Gospel tradition, I was often encouraged to ignore my emotions, focus on the good, ignore the bad, and “count my many blessings” –in spite of whatever was actually going on.
It’s no wonder that I recoil when I overhear someone say, “Well, you just need to be thankful…” or “You know, gratitude can change your heart…” It’s not that I don’t value the act of being thankful–I do–it’s just that I have struggled with gratitude being a “dose of good medicine” in lieu of having my actual needs met. While it is valuable to count your blessings, it’s also normal and emotionally responsible to be okay with not being okay; to give yourself grace for not feeling grateful or forcing it when you’re struggling.

Empty Platitudes

When you’re trying your best to make it through each day, empty platitudes can fall flat. This year perhaps more than any other, the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in most of our lives. I’m sure there are many people who don’t feel like getting slapped in the face with the command to “just be grateful.” That’s why I’m taking a different approach here.
In the article, “How to Practice Gratitude When You Don’t Feel Grateful,” therapist  Julie Williamson says:
Dr. Robert Emmons is one of the world’s leading scientific researchers on the subject of gratitude. He defines gratitude as an affirmation of goodness that comes from a source outside of one’s self. He writes that practicing gratitude does not mean we ignore complaints, burdens, or the fact that our lives are not perfect. Instead, practicing gratitude leads us to identify the goodness in our lives, as well as acknowledge the big and small gifts that come from other people and/or a Higher Power to help us achieve this goodness in our lives.”

Change of Heart

Instead of commanding that you turn and be grateful for the things you do have, I’d like to suggest that you lean on God to fill in the gaps and provide hope right in the middle of your messy situation. I often find that I can’t change my own heart–God has to do it for me.
Below, I’m going to give a prompt to think about, followed by a Bible verse and a question to ponder as you contemplate how to find thankfulness in your heart when times are tough:

You might have been downsized, lost your job, or are stuck doing work that isn’t fulfilling. 

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 ESV

[Ponder and Pray] What is one thing difficult thing you can present to God and ask him to help shift your perspective?


You may have a sick child, a broken down car in need of repairs, a failing marriage, or difficult health conditions. 

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26 ESV

[Ponder and Pray] What is one broken thing you can turn over to God and ask him to help guide and lead?

You may be completely worn to the bone having been “flexible” since March and you’re tired of dealing with so much uncertainty. 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

[Ponder and Pray] Can you pick one failed plan from the past year, think about it briefly, then commit this plan or activity to the Lord? Ask him to help you be okay with the loss, or breathe new life into the next iteration of the plan.

You may feel generally hopeless, worried, or scared for what the future holds.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV
[Ponder and Pray] What is one fear you are thinking about today? Take a moment to rejoice with God in prayer that he knows your fear and understands your practical needs.

You may feel like tomorrow will be the same as today and you’ve lost hope that things will get better.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV
[Ponder and Pray] What is a simple routine task that you’re able to do every day? Take a moment to thank God that you’re able to do this task with ease each day.

Finally, you might not realize that Jesus is no stranger to suffering and that he can empathize and relate to your pain. He is here to meet you in a personal way and help you in the space between your life which most definitely includes sin and an unwillingness to allow him to work in the dirty places of your heart. Jesus is available for comfort, refuge, forgiveness–and will not chide you for the difficulties you are facing now.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV
I pray that you receive the mercy of Jesus and find help from him in your time of need. Happy Thanksgiving.

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