An earnest man took seriously the popular idea that he should always think positively. But one night he found himself put to the test in his evening prayer. It had been one of those days.

Any lesser person would have given in to complaint. However, after some soul searching, our man here came up with a positive prayer of one sentence, “O Lord, I thank you that not every day is as bad as this one.”

Now, the instinct to be thankful is a sound instinct. If there is a single test of our spiritual health, it is our thankfulness. It is both the mark of a healthy mind and a trusting heart.

As a matter of fact, the more we know of God, the more thankful we become. And the more thankful we become, the more we know of God.

The psalmist says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name,” (103:1). Notice that the psalmist begins with a summons to praise. But interestingly his summons is not directed to others but to his own soul — his own inner being.

To state that same thought differently: to live thankfully.

So how do we live thankfully in our kind of world? Here are a few suggestions.

First, we live thankfully when we recall God’s gracious dealings with us. In truth, there is simply no way to manufacture thankfulness. It doesn’t spring from a spiritless desert. As the psalmist suggests, thankfulness begins in our knowledge and experience of God, however limited.

Writing in one of his books, Mitch Albom said of his Rabbi friend who was dying that he was never haunted by “why am I here?” He knew why he was here, he said: “to give to others, to celebrate God, and to enjoy and honor the world he was put in.” His morning prayers began with “Thank you, Lord, for returning my soul to me.”

Then Mitch said, “When you start that way, the rest of the day is a bonus.”

Second, we live thankfully when realize that thanksgiving is the remedy for much of our malaise. The real strength of Thanksgiving itself is not to be found in some nostalgic commemoration of pre-Colonial America. What do we really need today of pilgrims facing hardships in the winter snow or natives gathering for a several-day feast? Truly, our need today is much more contemporary than that.

Our desperate need today is for guidance in dealing with our modern-day cynicism, despair and hopelessness that has gripped so many individuals, groups, communities and nations, including our own.

What is needed is a better feeling toward life —a different way of looking at life, a different attitude.

So Thanksgiving arises as a life-affirming force — a hopeful way of thinking and living. True Thanksgiving is grounded in God and is a matter of the heart.

Third, we live thankfully when we recognize that is God’s calling upon our lives. At the peak of his career, Mark Twain earned $5 dollars a word for the magazine articles he wrote. Some wag sent Twain a $5 dollar bill with this note, “Dear Mr. Twain, please send me a good word.”

On a sheet of paper, Twain responded with one good word: “Thanks.”

Thanks is a good word because it acknowledges that we can’t make it by ourselves.

Thanks is a good because it relieves tension in our lives.

Thanks is a good word because it adds joy to our world.

Thanks is a good word because it makes us akin to God.

And thanks is a good word because it’s a vital ingredient in meaningful living.

Thanks is a good word.

The Rev. Hal Brady is an ordained United Methodist minister and executive director of Hal Brady Ministries, based in Atlanta. You can watch him preach every week on the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters TV channel Thursdays at 8 p.m.