What is a biblical view of thankfulness / gratitude?
The Bible has much to say about thankfulness. In fact, giving thanks to God is of such fundamental importance that the Bible mentions the failure to do so as part of the basis for God's judgment against mankind (Romans 1:21). First Thessalonians 5:16–18 says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Clearly thankfulness should be characteristic of Christians.
Temporal blessings are grounds for gratitude to both God and others. We should thank God for the earthly things He provides to us. He is responsible for the fact that we are even alive, and blesses us with much more beyond that (Matthew 6:25–34). We can also thank other people for their acts of kindness, gifts, and love toward us. It is good to acknowledge the efforts of others and to demonstrate our gratitude.
Far beyond any temporal blessings, we are thankful to God for His spiritual blessings. Foremost, we are grateful for His gift of salvation. Apart from Jesus Christ we only deserve eternity in hell (Romans 6:23; John 3:16–18). But while we were still God's enemies, dead in the filth of our sins, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to make atonement for us (Romans 5:10). It is good and right that we continually give thanks to God for this.
Salvation involves more than rescue from hell; God has given us eternal spiritual blessings by uniting us to Jesus Christ through faith (Ephesians 1:3). If we are in Christ, we have received forgiveness of sins, adoption into God's family, and eternal life (Ephesians 1:3–14). We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). God has equipped us with all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3–4). He has given us His Holy Spirit to indwell us (John 14:16–17). The list of spiritual blessings we receive from God could go on, and each thing on that list is a cause for gratitude. All that we have been freely given by God through our union with Christ ought to cause us to cry out, "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15).
However, it is not only what we perceive to be positive that should cause us to thank God. Thankfulness is so crucial to the Christian life that it is one of the things we are commanded to do always and in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We should thank God in trials, temptations, and tribulations as well (James 1:1–4). This is one of the most important lessons for a Christian to learn if he or she would be truly joyful, content, and peaceful.
Why would anyone be thankful for such terrible things as trials? The answer is because even bad things work together for the ultimate good of those who love God (Romans 8:28). How? Because the ultimate goal of the Christian is to be conformed to the image of Christ; and God uses trials, temptations, and tribulations to grow us and mold us into the likeness of Christ. God uses trials to make us stronger. God uses temptations and tribulations to test and purify our faith. God is also faithful to be with us in the midst of trials. The suffering of this world caused by sin grieves the heart of God. Yet He equips us to endure under it and He redeems it for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory. Therefore, we can and ought to thank God for what He is doing through even the most painful circumstances. Even in death a Christian can give thanks, for death brings the believer the gain of being brought immediately into the presence of Jesus (Philippians 1:21–23). A proper understanding of God's sovereignty and His providence in working all things together for the good of those who love Him is a bedrock of thanksgiving; such a perspective is also the antidote for ingratitude and complaining (Philippians 2:12–16).
We have so many reasons to thank God, and yet it is a far too rare practice for many. Complaining and grumbling come all too easily for us. Rather than look at what is lacking in our lives, may we learn to thank God in everything realizing that God owes us nothing and yet has graciously given us all things in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31–32; Ephesians 1:3–14; 2 Peter 1:3). Jesus pointed out both the importance and the rarity of thanksgiving when only one of the ten lepers that He healed returned to thank Him. We would do well to imitate that one former leper (Luke 17:11–19). For in a spiritual sense, we are all born lepers with the disfiguring and alienating disease called sin. Yet, Christ voluntarily took on the punishment due our ingratitude, the bruises due our iniquities, and the stripes due our sins.
Thankfulness is the only proper response to such lavish grace. Our lives and every good thing in them are gifts from God (James 1:17). We have done and can do nothing to deserve these gifts (Job 41:11). We are forever debtors to God and to His grace which reached its zenith in His sacrificing His only Son for our salvation (John 3:16–17). The eternal life that we have received through faith in Jesus deserves an eternity of gratitude (John 3:15).