Here’s what I am learning: A grateful heart is a heart that is free. An ungrateful heart is a heart that is bound. Gratitude inevitably leads to freedom. 

The root of the word gratitude is the Latin word gratis, which means free. If gratitude and freedom are connected etymologically, wouldn’t it make sense that the two are connected spiritually as well? When we cultivate hearts bent toward seeing the good we’ve been given, it frees us from the sludge of negativity so we can experience joy. 

God created us to be a thankful and joyful people. He formed us so intentionally that joy will only flourish in a soil rich with gratitude. In fact, without gratitude, we do not have the capacity for joy. God wired our brains in such a way that it is impossible to feel joy without a posture of thankfulness preceding it. According to research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, gratitude primes the brain for positive emotions: it “stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our ‘reward circuitry’ that produces the sensation of pleasure).” 

We are called to be thankful in everything. Not for everything, but in everything. And we must be if we are to experience the deep joy that is meant to dwell in the very center of our being. Thankfulness is the key that opens the door to the joy we are meant to walk in. 

A grateful heart is a heart that is free. An ungrateful heart is a heart that is bound. 

I’m picturing Eeyore here. Or Puddleglum. Neither sees the good but only the possibility for the worst. To them, disaster not only looms but is probably coming in the next moment. Their fictional feet are chained to the ground with a heaviness that binds. I recognize myself in them. To be free, I need to look back at my life and the lives of others and remember the faithfulness of God. Though sometimes it may feel as though it would take a miracle to be lifted out of the mire of worry and transferred to a place of gratefulness, the choice is ours to make. 

Remember: “Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle.” (Voskamp; One Thousand Gifts)

Gratitude is the key, friends. Gratitude unlocks joy. And to be grateful, we need to remember the reason for our gratitude—we are grateful because we have been rescued. 

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