The Secret Habit that Brings Victory to Every Circumstance

The answer might sound crazy.

  • When you're unhappy, give thanks.
  • When you're angry about the state of the world, give thanks.
  • When you and someone you love are at odds, give thanks.
  • When you're hurting, give thanks.

I know – it sounds like Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up and face reality.  It sounds ridiculously head-in-the-clouds.  Give thanks in every circumstance?  You must be dreaming.

head in the clouds

Is it even possible?

Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch author who helped hide Jews from the Nazis and almost died in a concentration camp, would have agreed with you.  When she and her sister (both in their fifties) arrived at Ravensbrück in the summer of 1944, it didn't look like they had much to be thankful for.  Their filthy, freezing cold barracks, where they were to be packed with hundreds of other starving, beaten women, would have daunted anyone.  And on their first night they discovered it was also infested with bedbugs and fleas.

Maybe you've battled fleas at one time or another, courtesy of your pets, and I've dealt with a bedbug infestation.  Ugh!  You can only shudder with horror when a pest control professional holds up your bed's box spring to show you hundreds of pests huddled under the seams.  It's unnerving!  There they wait, ready to get active once you lie down – ready to feast on your blood.  I feel sick just thinking about it.

Corrie obviously had an imagination at least as good as mine, and bewailed the fact that she and her sister Betsie wouldn't even be able to sleep in this God-forsaken place without being visited by parasites.  It was one step too far.  Corrie couldn't handle one more awful detail.

But she and Betsie weren't God-forsaken.  It only seemed that way.

Betsie was an amazing woman of faith.  She was ready to give thanks for every dreadful situation she and Corrie were living in.  She prodded Corrie to join her.  According to ten Boom's memoir, The Hiding Place,* Betsie wanted to follow the Bible's command to "give thanks in all circumstances."

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

Corrie remembers Betsie saying,

"We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!"

I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.  "Such as?" I said.

"Such as being assigned here together."

I bit my lip.  "Oh yes....  Oh, all right.  Thank you God for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds."

"Thank you," Betsie went on serenely, "for the fleas and for...."

The fleas!  This was too much.  "Betsie, there's no way even God can make me grateful for a flea."

As Betsie and Corrie held prayer meetings, more and more women joined in.  They began timidly, but night after night no guard ever came near.  Guards that would beat women unconscious merely for being weak and underfed and unable to do the slave labor required of them never came into the barracks to enforce the rigid rules.  Why?

Because of the fleas.

Do you have "fleas" in your life?  Or maybe it's mosquitoes.  They're a plague here in the summer, mostly because of thousands of acres of rice fields to the west of us.  What good are they?  They spread diseases such as malaria and yellow fever which kill hundreds of thousands of people every year.  (But mosquito nets save lives.)

wren eating bugs
It turns out that mosquitoes help pollinate thousands of plants, which in turn provide food for hundreds of other species and help reforest the planet.  The mosquitoes themselves are food for birds, bats, spiders, insects, lizards, frogs, and fish.  They're important to the food chain.  I suppose that's something to be thankful for. 

Certainly the intricate, wondrously planned ecosystem, of which we and mosquitoes are a part, and which makes life on Earth possible, is something to be thankful for!

You see, when you have to find creative reasons to be thankful, you're training your mind to work a certain way.  You don't have to be a person of faith to see the benefits.  As you start looking for ways to be thankful, your mind begins to notice more and more details that inspire gratitude.

You can train your mind in the opposite direction as well.  Look for reasons to grumble, and you'll start the ball rolling on a whole litany of complaints.  (Ask me how I know.)

Related article:  Beyond Failure: How to Find More Success by Starting Again

I don't know what your "fleas" are.  They may be little, annoying things like an invasion of ants or a persistent head cold.  Or they might be seriously life-altering, like a bad medical diagnosis or permanent estrangement from someone who has been important to you.

Sometimes gratitude is an act of the will.

It's easy to feel thankful when the sun is shining and all your plans bear good fruit.  Why shouldn't we feel grateful when our needs and wants are met?  The real test is what we do when adversity comes.  Without the habit of giving thanks, we will feel God-forsaken.  We may sink under our burdens.

But with a habit of gratitude, we literally change our brain's structure and chemistry.  Our brains are efficient – they're designed to make frequently repeated tasks easier to repeat again (like learning to type or play an instrument).  If we've practiced focusing on things we can be thankful for, and looked for ways to feel gratitude about the not-so-great things, we've actually trained our brains to make future thankfulness more likely, and our mindset more and more positive.  And how about this for a bonus:  a habit of gratitude stimulates the production of both serotonin and dopamine, improving mood, metabolism, and sleep.

On the other hand, complaining makes us feel powerless.  Negative attitudes nurture a sense of hopelessness.  That's why ranting about a problem only leads to anger and exhaustion.

Expressing gratitude might not always be easy, but it's powerful.  It's the secret to having victory over every circumstance.

Related article: How to Overcome the Habit that Drains the Strength You Need Today

Here's some good news:  Just as you can gain skill at maintaining your home, schedule, and budget, you can also get better at maintaining inner serenity and peace.  We can't control all the circumstances of our lives, but we have some control over our responses to them.  And we can mold our habits and even our brains toward positivity and happiness.

My book, Simply Happy (the fifth book in my Minimalist Basics series), will show you how to change the way you look at the world and help you pursue your joy.  Get a copy for yourself or a friend today.

For a truly wonderful gift, pair Simply Happy with this illustrated edition of The Hiding Place.


  1. Hello Karen! I remember reading the report in Reader's Digest some 20 years ago...and how then I was struck by the gratitude for the fleas...and the beautiful account of the drop of oil, so similar to the miracle of the widow of Sarepta... Thank you for reminding me of this lesson of gratitude de Corrie and Betsie!

    1. Hi Ale! Yes, the miracle of the vitamin oil! Corrie wrote such a difficult but inspiring book -- I've loved it since I read it first during high school.


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