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How Gratitude Can Supercharge Your Fight Against Porn

Last Updated: November 26, 2021

Keith Rose
Keith Rose

Keith Rose holds a Master of Divinity degree and BA in Sacred Music. Keith worked with the Covenant Eyes Member Care Team for 15 years. During that time, he also served as a worship leader, Bible teacher, and pastoral assistant. He's now an educational content creator at Covenant Eyes and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Rexford, Montana with his wife Ruby.

“Let’s go around the table and say something we’re thankful for” is a clichéd Thanksgiving tradition. But this simple exercise may be more important than you realize—especially if you’re fighting the temptation to look at porn.

New research is shedding light on what the Bible revealed almost 2000 years ago: gratitude is key to positive life change.

What the Bible Teaches About Thanksgiving

In Romans 1, the Bible tells us that sin begins when people who know God “neither acknowledge God nor give thanks.” The lack of thankfulness toward God is the first in a long series of dominoes that ends in wickedness, corruption, and destruction.

From this, we can reason that the power of porn is somehow related to ingratitude. And the Apostle Paul confirms this in Ephesians 5. Here, we find that giving thanks is an alternative to sexual impropriety, lust, and greed.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Ephesians. 5:3-4)

Reflecting on this passage, biblical counselor Heath Lambert writes:

The logic of lust requires you to be discontent with what you have and pay attention to all the things you don’t have. The logic of thankfulness requires you to focus on what you have already received and to be overcome with thanks. Gratitude is the opposite of greed.

Think about that. The temptation to lust is wrapped up in a failure to give thanks. Lambert goes on to apply this principle specifically to porn:

If you struggle with porn, one of your greatest needs is to grow in the grace of gratitude. Just because you may never have thought about it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Porn is only consumed by thankless people. The desire for porn is a desire to escape from what the Lord has given you into a fake universe full of things you do not have and will never have. Porn is the trading of gratitude for greed.

It’s a stern rebuke, to be sure. But it offers hope as well. The Bible claims a key to defeating lust is found in gratitude!

What New Research Tells Us About Thanksgiving

Even if you believe the Bible is God’s word, it may feel like a stretch to accept that saying “thank you” can help overcome the urge to watch porn—especially in moments of temptation.

It feels simplistic and trivial.

But some of the new research on gratitude sheds light on how the discipline of gratitude fuels your victory over porn. It helps us understand the richness of this biblical teaching, and how to apply it practically to overcome the power of porn.

Gratitude Makes You Happier

Researchers have found that grateful people are happier. Unlike other positive thinking approaches, gratitude is not just about “thinking happy thoughts.” Gratitude is an exercise of intentional focus on good things. One study found remarkable results:

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.¹

Additionally, another study found that “high ratings of gratitude were linked to better quality of sleep as well as lower depressive symptoms and anxiety.”²

Unwanted porn use is connected with areas of unhappiness or unfulfillment in your life. If you’re happier, then you’ll feel less “need” to turn to porn. Depression and anxiety are also common triggers to porn. If gratitude has the power to fend off these negative emotions, it will also bolster your fight against porn.

In Philippians 4:6, Paul encourages believers, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” But Paul understands the close connection between thankfulness and happiness. The solution is to bring our concerns before God with grateful hearts, knowing that He provides “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

Gratitude Boosts Self-Control

Not only is thankfulness a general mood-booster, but it’s been shown to help people accomplish their goals. Author and professor of psychology David Desteno conducted research on gratitude and its relationship to goal-oriented behavior. He says, “We found that feeling grateful almost doubled people’s self-control—they were more willing to wait for the future reward than those who were feeling happy or neutral.”³

Anyone who has battled with porn knows just how critical self-control is—and how quickly it vanishes in the face of temptation. But gratitude can motivate you to overcome the desires of the moment and focus on your long-term goals.

Gratitude Improves Your Relationships

When you are grateful for people it makes you appreciate them more and has an improving effect on your relationships. Surveying the available gratitude research, one article in the Clinical Psychology Review concluded, “a large body of cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence suggests that gratitude is robustly related to both positive relationships, and the characteristics needed for their development and maintenance.”4

This is critical for anyone fighting porn, because meaningful relationships are necessary for overcoming porn. When you exercise thankfulness for the people around you the connection you have grows stronger. You’ll be quicker to reach out to them for help when you need it. This may be one of the reasons that the Apostle Paul so frequently gave thanks for the churches where he ministered (e.g. 1 Thessalonians. 1:2-3).

3 Simple Steps to Fight Porn With Thanksgiving

So, all that information is great. But what do you do with it? How do you exercise gratitude to help you fight porn?

1. Practice Gratitude When You’re Not Tempted

The best time to start practicing gratitude isn’t in the moment of temptation. Chances are, thankfulness is the last thing on your mind when you face an overwhelming urge to look at porn. If you wait to practice gratitude until you’re tempted, you’re probably not going to do it at all.

It’s far better to start practicing gratitude before the moment of temptation. Start developing a gratitude habit. Make a goal of spending the first five minutes of each day writing a list of things you’re thankful for, then bring these up in prayer throughout the day. When you finish work, school, or other daily routines, stop for a moment take a thanksgiving inventory.

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What blessings have I received today?
  • What problems have I mercifully avoided?

You can do this on a weekly or monthly basis as well, but making it a daily practice will be most effective. This puts you in a positive mindset so you’re less likely to feel compelled to turn to porn. It also supercharges your self-control and fuels your motivation to pursue positive behaviors instead of destructive ones.

Maybe you’re lonely and discouraged right now and it feels like you don’t have much to be thankful for. But you do. Every breath is a gift from God!

2. Practice Gratitude When You Are Tempted

Getting in the habit of thankfulness can help you avoid moments of temptation altogether. But it also equips you with a powerful weapon you can use when you feel yourself inclined to porn. The words of an old Gospel hymn give very sound practical advice:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.5

If you’ve already made a list of things you’re thankful for, use this to counter the stormy urges to look at porn. Meditate on it, pray over it. Tell a friend about it. Gratitude isn’t just a feeling—you probably won’t feel particularly grateful in these times. But you’re using the truth to teach your heart how to feel.

Even if you haven’t made a gratitude list yet it’s not too late to start. Set yourself a goal of coming up with ten things you’re thankful for before you turn on your computer. Counting your blessings won’t just surprise you like the song says. It will help empower you to overcome porn!

3. Practice Gratitude in Your Relationships

If going around the table and saying why we’re grateful feels clichéd or contrived, it’s probably because we’re lacking in our personal discipline of gratitude. I know that’s true for me! The Bible teaches that genuine thanksgiving can’t be kept in—we need to tell people about it (Psalm 105:1, Isaiah 12:4)!

Gratitude in relationships is where we see the real power against porn. It’s true that just adding a few “thank you” prayers each day won’t automatically defeat porn. That’s because isolation intensifies urges for porn. You need strong relationships, including accountability, to maintain your motivation. We already saw how thankfulness can strengthen your relationships, and deepen your love and appreciation for those around you.

Gratitude is an important factor for any relationship, but especially an accountability partnership. Don’t just keep your gratitude list to yourself. Share it with an ally! There are lots of creative ways you and your ally can leverage the power of gratitude to give you victory over porn. Here are just a few suggestions:

  1. Meet with your ally on a regular basis and spend time going over your gratitude list, thanking God for the things He’s given you.
  2. Don’t stop with thanking God—express your thanks to the specific people in your life that He’s given you. Call, send a text message, or write a note. Ask your ally to keep you accountable to make sure you follow through with this.
  3. Ask your ally to text you throughout the week and remind you to practice thankfulness.
  4. Set thankfulness challenges for each other. Make a goal to express thanksgiving – even if it’s just a simple “thank you”—with every personal interaction through your day. Or, make a goal to reach out to a different individual each day of the week, and tell them how you’re thankful for them. After the challenge, meet with your ally and discuss—what was difficult? What was easy? How did this shape your perspective the rest of the week?

There are many other ways to practice gratitude in your relationships! Let us know in the comments section how thankfulness has been a part of your life.


¹https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

²https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/psych/research/lifespan/sleeplab/projects/within/blog/thanksgiving2020/

³https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/three_emotions_that_can_help_you_succeed_at_your_goals

4https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/2Wood-GratitudeWell-BeingReview.pdf

5https://hymnary.org/text/when_upon_lifes_billows_you_are_tempest