Emotional HealthHealingRecovery 5 minutes to read

If we want to leverage gratitude and its transformative powers, we must practice it.

Aristotle once said, 

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

This means, if we want to become proficient or fruitful in gratitude, it requires lots of practice. 

Before we practice gratitude, let’s look at what it is.

Simply put, gratitude is about focusing on what’s good in our lives and being thankful for the things we have. It’s identifying God’s blessing and provision in our lives. It’s a recognition of what God has done and who He is.

The psalmist David describes gratitude in Psalm 100. He says, 

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him (gratitude); bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100:4-5 ESV

The beauty of practicing gratitude is that it plants us in the present. Gratitude is recognition of what we have. It’s a recognition of reality. 

For many of us who struggle with sexual brokenness, using fantasy and sexually acting out are ways to escape our painful reality. They are solely focused on the painful parts of our life and working to medicate them. They are identifying all the ways we feel God is not providing. It’s a highlight of what we don’t have.

Gratitude and sexual brokenness are opposites in so many ways. Where sexual brokenness is a form of escape from reality, gratitude is grounded in reality. Where sexual brokenness is focused on receiving what we’re lacking (love, acceptance, pleasure), gratitude identifies what we do have. The different forms of sexual brokenness temporarily pull us away from reality. Gratitude pulls us back to reality. And reality is the only place where real transformation can happen.

Now that we know what gratitude is, let’s establish why we should practice it.

Gratitude changes our brain. Gratitude lights up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and hypothalamus.* It boosts serotonin and dopamine levels in our brain. Which means it makes us feel calm and makes us feel pleasure. Who doesn’t want to feel calm and feel good? Dumb question—everyone wants that!

We see a neurochemical reason to practice what Paul tells us in Ephesians 5,

…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father…

Ephesians 5:20 ESV

Gratitude helps us live in reality and awards our brain with feelings of being relaxed and feeling pleasure.

Now, let’s look at how to practice gratitude.

Write Them Down

Though we live in a hyper-digital age, I highly recommend you write down your gratitudes. I have a few reasons for this (some I will get to later), but the top of the list is how the act of physically writing something is good for your brain. 

Psychology Today says, “Handwriting triggers more robust brain activity.”* They also say, “Writing by hand is associated with stronger neural encoding and memory retrieval.”

If we write down our gratitudes, our brain gets a workout. And brain workouts are good for us holistically. Who doesn’t want to better remember the good things in life?

Write down your gratitudes. It’s good for you in multiple ways.

Start Small

I recommend you start small with your gratitudes. Don’t feel pressure to come up with these deep, rich (and often theologically-driven) gratitudes. Thank God for your house/apartment. Thank Him for the meal you just ate. Thank Him for the ability to speak or hear.

These might seem childish or ridiculous, but they’re not. As mentioned before, when we write down gratitudes (even simple ones), our brain holds on to these realities. When we drop into a funk or get triggered, if we’ve written down our gratitudes, we can more quickly retrieve the things we can be thankful for. And in that moment, the positive effects of gratitude act as a healthy coping skill. In a moment of stress or being triggered, we can feel calm and feel pleasure if we remember our gratitudes.

The longer we practice gratitude, the deeper they may become. But don’t be afraid to start small. Gratitude is gratitude, regardless of what it’s for.

Do It Regularly

Remember Aristotle’s quote at the beginning of this blog? Excellence is a habit. If we want to feel the full effects of gratitude, it has to be something we practice often. This is accomplished best if we find pockets in our day or throughout the week where we can identify gratitudes.

For me, this is part of my morning routine. When I get up, I know I have time set aside to journal, pray, practice gratitude, and read the Bible. If we don’t work gratitude into our daily or weekly rhythm, we can never experience the full benefits this has to offer.

Revisit Them Often

One of my favorite things to do is go back in my journals and see the ways God has answered prayers. It’s also a great way to see how I’ve used gratitude in the past. My last gratitude entry identified these:

  • A good meeting with one of my elders
  • Our community group is growing and how I love this group
  • I had an opportunity to speak at my church’s youth group
  • My son praying to receive salvation

You can see that some of these are really simple and some are big. But regardless, this was a good exercise in identifying things I’m grateful for. Things I could thank the Lord for. As I’m writing this now, I’m remembering each of these experiences and how great they were. It’s reminding me of God’s goodness in this moment. Pretty cool!

Gratitude is a great practice. It’s helpful in the journey of recovery and healing. But it’s only as useful as we’re willing to put in the practice. Write down your gratitudes. Start with the small stuff. Practice gratitude on a regular basis. And don’t forget to revisit them from time to time—you might be reminded of just how good God is to you.

Let’s all become excellent at gratitude.

Practice, practice, practice. 

*Brain Balance Achievement Center, Gratitude And The Brain: What Is Happening? 

*Christopher Bergland, 4 Reasons Writing Things Down on Paper Still Reigns Supreme, Psychology Today, March 19, 2021.

The views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and do not reflect an official position of Pure Desire Ministries, except where expressly stated.

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Trevor Winsor

Trevor is the Marketing Director for Pure Desire. He has been in ministry leadership for 10 years. Trevor is a certified Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional (PSAP) through the International Institute of Addiction and Trauma Professionals (IITAP). He has a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Corban University, a Master’s in Ministry & Leadership from Western Seminary, and is a licensed pastor. Trevor is passionate about integrating trauma and addiction healing with spiritual disciplines to produce holistic healing.


  1. david blair

    The quote in the very beginning (We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.) is actually from Will Durant and is taken from his book ‘The Story of Philosophy’. It was Will Durants observation of Artistotle that brought forth that quote.
    Secondly, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 says “rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances” which to me reads, not only be thankful for the good in our lives, but also the bad or uncomfortable. It’s definitely been a God send for me to see life that way. To be thankful for all things that happen to you!

  2. david blair

    Enjoyed the focus on what gratitude really is – the practice of living in reality! Thanks for the article!

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