Six Habits of Highly Grateful People
Read the full Article

What is the Science?

Psychological research suggests that, when we commit to specific practices, gratitude can become a habit that increases resilience and happiness. But how exactly does one form a habit of gratitude? Jeremy Adam Smith responds to this question by listing six key practices to which grateful people remain committed:

  1. Once in awhile, they think about death and loss.” Studies have shown that occasionally visualizing one’s death, or the death of a loved one, measurably increases gratitude. Likewise, one study showed that those who abstained from an item like chocolate became more grateful for the treat than those were instructed to go on a chocolate binge.
  2. They take the time to smell the roses.” Smith notes that savoring positive experiences through patience, ritual, or even smell, greatly increases gratitude.    
  3. 3. “They take the good things as gifts, not birthrights.” Unlike a posture of entitlement, Smith argues, gratitude often looks like humility, beginning with regularly “counting [one’s] blessings.”  
  4. They’re grateful to people, not just things.” Simply saying “thank you” to those around you, Smith notes, strengthens social bonds by boosting positive experiences in relationships and therefore in the larger community.
  5. They mention the pancakes.” Gratitude becomes more authentic, Smith argues, when expressed in normal moments and concerning specific things—like expressing how much you enjoyed the pancakes.  
  6. They thank outside the box.” “Advanced gratitude,” says Smith, occurs when we learn to become thankful for difficult or even painful experiences. Rather than being a channel into denial, gratitude should become transformative in allowing one to see an obstacle as an opportunity.

“If you’re already one of those highly grateful people, stop reading this essay—you don’t need it. I But if you’re more like me, then here are some tips for how you and I can become one of those fantastically grateful people.” – Jeremy Adam Smith

What is the Theology?

For those striving to “be thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5: 18; cf. Eph 5:20), Smith’s six practices may be welcomed guidance in shaping gratitude into a habit. Likewise, these practices may provide direction for the preacher who desires to offer practical examples of gratitude in a way that transcends the overly simplistic imperative, “you should try to be more thankful.” As when Jesus grieved the loss of Lazarus, being thankful in difficult times can be complex (Jn. 11:35, 41). Preachers may therefore lean into the complexity of gratitude by demonstrating how science can assist in cultivating the daily embodying of gratitude.

What to Consider

  •  How might fasting in the Christian tradition connect to Smith’s recognition that giving up/abstaining from certain items can increase our gratitude?
  •  Consider how prayer can serve a way of “Smelling the Roses,” a key act in making gratitude habitual. How might this article inform the way you pray, for example, around family meals?
  • How might Smith’s section on “taking the good things as gifts, not birthrights” interact with your theological understanding of grace?

How to go Deeper

  • Practice imagining or living without something/someone that you fear you might take for granted. Reflect and record how your gratitude for that person/event/circumstance, etc. changes over time.
  • Encourage your church to simply practice saying “thank you” to one another thereby building relational and communal bonds.
  • In building your own habit of gratitude, take the practices of Smith’s article and apply them among your staff and volunteers. How can your habit of gratitude blossom into a culture of gratitude in your church community?

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

Related Research

The Power of Forgiveness at Work
Article by Brooke Deterline (2016)
Read the Full Article

May 1st, 2017|6 Comments

What is the Science? While the benefits of forgiveness are widely supported by two decades of research, a recent study seeks to demonstrate the positive impact of forgiveness within the specific context of [...]

The Three Parts of an Effective Apology
Christine Carter (2015)
Read the Full Article

February 3rd, 2017|4 Comments

What is the Science? Often the catalyst for receiving forgiveness is offering a good apology. Yet, in her article “The Three Parts of an Effective Apology,” Christine Carter suggests that all apologies are [...]

Is Vengeance Better for Victims than Forgiveness?
Article by Jason Marsh (2015)
Read the Full Article

December 16th, 2016|5 Comments

What is the Science? After victimization, many people desire vengeance. In well-publicized atrocities, such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing or the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting, prosecutors, the public, and victims’ families [...]

How to Overcome Barriers to Forgiveness
Article by Linda Graham (2014)
Read the Full Article

December 16th, 2016|3 Comments

What is the Science? Forgiveness is a difficult thing. It can take a great amount of time and work to arrive at a place where we can let go of hostility and [...]

Which Contributes More to Forgiveness, Sympathy or Free Will?
Article by Michael McCullough (2013)
Read the Full Article

December 14th, 2016|2 Comments

What is the Science? Psychologist Michael McCullough suggests that when humans consider forgiving others they instinctively engage in one of two distinct systems for arriving at forgiveness: sympathy or free will. McCullough argues [...]

How Grudges Hurt Your Health
By Joanna McParland (2016)
Read the full Article

September 27th, 2016|4 Comments

What is the Science? Research has long suggested that if a person carries a prolonged grievance they risk adverse health effects. Now, a new study suggests that one’s determination to hold a grudge [...]

By | 2019-04-30T23:45:55+00:00 June 5th, 2017|Gratitude, Research|9 Comments

About the Author:

Michael Wiltshire serves as an assistant pastor at Rose City Church in Pasadena, CA. He holds an M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016) and a B.S. from Cornerstone University, double majoring in Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry. While studying at Fuller Theological Seminary, he co-led the Fuller Faith and Science student group and worked in residential community. Michael is passionate about pastoral care, and is dedicated to exploring how preaching, practical theology, and organizational systems can empower churches to care well. A Michigander at heart, Michael enjoys cloudy weather and the NBA.


  1. aidenkang June 5, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    The link to read the full article doesn’t work.

  2. aidenkang June 6, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks for fixing the link.

  3. aidenkang June 6, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    Love how practical this article is, especially approaching it in terms of forming a habit of being grateful, and as Aristotle & others have noted, character is formed by habits.

  4. Rich Gideons June 12, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Some good points and I agree with most except the first one. I’m not sure how dwelling on one’s own death or someone else’s will increase gratitude. I guess it really depends on what your life situation is like. If I compare this life to what eternity holds I’m not always grateful for this life, especially with the world today I say come Lord Jesus come! And the point about Jesus morning Lazuras’ death, I don’t think He was morning the death but the sadness of Martha and Mary and other family. Especially since Jesus allowed his death to grow His apostles faith. But as the saying goes develop an attitude of gratitude which requires developing good habits which most of your points can do.

    • July 1, 2017 at 6:44 pm

      Good qualification Rich. I think that the phrase “every once in a while” in #1 helps…we shouldn’t think about death all the time, but occasional reflection can help us be grateful for the life we’ve been given, even with its sorrows and challenges.

  5. June 14, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    Great article. I appreciate the way these practices were tied into Scripture

  6. Thomas June 18, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    Great, practical, and biblical advice. A great read!

  7. Rich Gideons July 16, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Good point Matt, I hadn’t really considered the qualifier in #1.

Leave A Comment