I was driving to work, going forty miles an hour on a road I have driven routinely thousands of times. Not much ever happened on this drive, so my mind was not prepared to see the little red car suddenly dart out in front of me from a side street. It was insane. It was impossible for that driver to think he could force his way onto the road without getting hit. I was sure I was going to smash into that car. In a split second, I hit the brake and horn at the same time and waited for that sickening sound of metal crushing metal.

Then, by some miracle, I didn’t hit the car, and no one else in traffic hit me. It took me several miles to calm the panic that had shaken my mind and body. I kept reliving that moment for the rest of the day, never understanding how I avoided the crash. I thanked God for protecting me, and when I told the story to a few people later that day, I found myself filled with gratitude and relief all over again. Then a strange thought occurred to me. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the wreck that did not occur that day, but what about all the other days when I didn’t have car crashes? I didn’t have a wreck on the day before the almost-accident, or on the day before that, or the week before that, or even years before that. Yet I could not remember expressing any gratitude for all the car crashes that didn’t happen day after day.

People often speak of the importance of gratitude, but we usually think of being grateful for what we have been given or good things that have happened: we’re grateful for family, for friendships, for a home and food, for getting a job we wanted, for accomplishing a hard task. Being intentionally grateful for these things makes our lives richer because, without that gratitude, it’s easy to focus on the problems of life, which can seem overwhelming, and we can lose sight of how many good things fill our existence every day.

But in addition to being thankful for what we have, what if we also focus more on gratitude for what didn’t happen? I started thinking in those terms. I didn’t die today. My house was not destroyed by earthquake, fire, or flood. I was not arrested and thrown in jail. I was not sick. I was not robbed. My friends didn’t betray me. My wife didn’t leave me. I did not get fired. The electricity didn’t go off. I didn’t go hungry. It may have been a tough day in some ways, and I may have felt unappreciated, besieged with difficulties, worn down, and worried about the future, but when I think of all the things that could have happened but didn’t, the day looked quite a bit better!

One way I have been putting this new approach to gratitude into practice is that now, whenever something bad happens, I try to not only address or mourn that problem but also to use it as a chance to be grateful for what didn’t happen. Maybe I have a flat tire, which is a hassle, but think of all those hundreds of days when I didn’t get a flat. And what about all the days when I didn’t lose my keys or spill my coffee or run out of gas or rip my pants or sprain my ankle or forget someone’s name or make some comment I regret? What about that damaging email I didn’t send, the temper tantrum I didn’t throw?

“I realize that many of the good things God has placed in my life are there not only because of what did happen but also because of what didn’t.”

Recently, I had cancer surgery that required the surgeon to cut away most of the right side of my nose. I have been walking around with bandages on the middle of my face for a few months now. Before this, I had always taken my nose for granted. Who thinks to thank God for their nose? I would give anything to have mine back, and I will have to pay a high price to have it restored. So if you have a nose today, be thankful!

I realize that many of the good things God has placed in my life are there not only because of what did happen but also because of what didn’t. I have my house because the seller did not choose someone else’s offer. I have my job because my employer did not choose a different candidate. I am married to my wife because she did not marry someone else. On and on the list could go. I am grateful for these non-happenings! Every day, God sustains me in ways I usually take for granted. If all these sustaining actions—these “didn’t happen” episodes—were presented to me in a long list, I would feel like the most fortunate man in the world. I want to keep myself more aware of this particular way that God shows his love.

Consider the words of Lamentations 3:22–23: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”