You’ve heard the phrase, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Does that apply to gratitude? Does that feel inauthentic to you? Maybe even like you’re lying?
Raised as a Christian, I was taught to never lie. So to suggest that I fake gratitude feels counter to my moral fabric.
But researchers suggest that faking it may actually be a good strategy.
Dr. Alex Korb is a neuroscientist at UCLA and the author of The Upward Spiral. He explains: “You can turn a tendency toward a downward spiral of depression and anxiety into an upward spiral of joy and clarity in your life. Expressing gratitude activates serotonin production, which improves your mood and allows you to overcome bad habits, giving you more to be grateful for.”
Does the Bible teach you to fake it?
I hear that and wonder if the Bible supports this. We can actually see the Bible teaching this implicitly. In Psalm 103, David says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (v. 1). He’s reminding himself to praise God. He may not be feeling like praising God at the moment, but he has a long list of reasons to be thankful.
In Psalm 42, David asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” He answers himself by reminding himself about what will one day happen, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
Let’s be honest, David doesn’t feel hopeful at this moment; he feels depressed and despondent. But he knows his mind controls his emotions, not the other way around.
Are we really faking it?
That makes me wonder if we’re really faking it. Or is something else going on?
Emotions are fickle and controlled by many things, including our biology. We alone choose what our minds think about.
I remember teaching our kids to find something to be thankful for. At the dinner each night we played a game of highs and lows and this also included finding a reason to be thankful. It was easy to default to something safe, but we tried to press ourselves to find something new and unique. Sometimes this requires us to be thoughtful.
If we are choosing to be thankful for something, even when we don’t feel grateful it isn’t lying—it just feels inauthentic. Authenticity is important, but it’s not the ultimate goal. Our goal is to become more like Jesus. Even Jesus taught through parables so that only those with spiritual eyes could understand.
How to fake it until you feel it.
Let’s think through some common experiences to see how you might fake it until you finally feel grateful:
1: Faking thanks for a gift
When you get an unwanted gift or something you already own, how can you find a way to be thankful? Perhaps you acknowledge the thoughtfulness or the person’s excellent taste (since they got you something you already have).
2: Fake relationships
How do you express gratitude for someone you really don’t like? Since God created everyone in his own image, discover something about that person that reminds you of God. Perhaps it’s their creativity, their energy, their ability to make things happen, or their persuasive use of words.
3: With financial burdens
How do you show gratitude when you’re facing overwhelming circumstances or financial burdens? Turn your focus to what you do have.
Ray Edwards, author of Permission to Prosper, recently reminded me that most Americans are in the top 2% of wage earners on the planet. But because 80% of Americans are in debt (according to Dave Ramsey), we are focused on what we don’t have. If we spent time cherishing what we do have, we would find ourselves far more grateful.
On episode 007 of the Man in the Pew show, Cary Humphries tells the story of losing everything they owned through a wildfire. He re-evaluated his attachment to his possessions. He once owned a large library, but now he only keeps the 100 books that are the most important to him. He gives the rest of it away.
I probably own thousands of books (I’ve never counted). I’m grateful for the story behind many of those books, but I likely wouldn’t replace most of them if I lost them in a fire. But spending a few minutes looking at my books gives me reason to be thankful for the relationships I have with the authors (some of whom I know personally, but all of whom have impacted my life).
4: With disease and illness
How might you show gratitude when facing illness or even likely death? This one seems the hardest for me.
Psalm 103:3 says “who heals all your diseases,” but it doesn’t take very long to realize God doesn’t heal ALL our diseases. We will all eventually die.
Certainly, God can heal our diseases and he often does. When Jesus ministered he would heal all the crowds who came to him. He didn’t turn people away saying he was too tired.
Do you ever wonder if those people got sick again? Did Jesus give them an antibody against all future diseases? Apparently not because everyone one of them eventually died.
I think the best way to fake it while we’re sick is to not focus on the sickness. Yes, we should pray for healing and do everything we can to get well, but our mental focus should be on life-giving thoughts. S.C. Segerstrom found that daily gratitude improves the immune system and sleep functions.
I have a friend whose parents are both under hospice care. While they are struggling with their mortality, they are spending many hours reflecting gratefully on their lives and looking forward to eternity. They aren’t faking it. This is real.
Where do you struggle to be grateful? Pick the hardest place and challenge yourself to find a way to be grateful every day. In faith, watch as your mindset changes. Eventually, your feelings will follow.
Lord, I’m grateful that you reveal truth to me through your word. Thank you that your plans and your truth don’t depend on how I feel about it. My salvation is permanently secured even though I sin often and feel insecure about it. I pray you would assure me today of your love. May your Spirit remind me often of all the things you’ve done for me and my family. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.