November 25, 2020
In this extraordinary year, we all have felt some degree of stress. Many have experienced difficulties such as illness, job loss, or isolation. We’ve also had to face some tough challenges as a society — battling a pandemic, civic and racial unrest, a contentious election, just to name a few — and there’s a general climate of uncertainty at the moment.
One way to counteract the stress we’ve all been feeling is to practice thankfulness. In fact, research suggests that one aspect of the Thanksgiving season can actually lift our spirits, and it’s built right into the holiday — expressing gratitude.
According to Harvard Healthi, “With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals.” In one study, those who wrote about gratitude for 10 weeks were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than before. Another found that those who wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude to someone immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. “This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month,” according to Harvard Health.
With the season to give thanks upon us, now is an opportune time to reflect on what it means to be truly thankful. With so much happening in the news that causes us distress or dismay, it can be easy to focus on what’s ‘wrong’ instead of the many things that are ‘right.’ With thankfulness, there is hope — a very important mindset to have when the world seems uncertain.
With that in mind, we wanted to offer some thoughts on thankfulness in preparation for the holiday season.
Reflect on the abundance of our modern society. According to The History Channelii, the first Thanksgiving did not take place in easy times. After suffering from exposure, malnutrition, scurvy, and outbreaks of contagious disease, the early colonists had to learn how to grow corn, catch fish, and extract sap from maple trees with the help of kindly local Native Americans. Historical accounts indicate that America’s “first Thanksgiving” may have included fowl, venison, and other dishes prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. With sugar in short supply, there were none of the cakes and pies we look forward to having today at our family tables.
Fast forward to the 21st century. We not only have an abundance of fresh food; we have nearly limitless choices for what we eat and where we shop. We can even order our meals online or through an app on our phones and have them delivered! If you stop and think about the conveniences that make it possible for us to live our lives comfortably, we indeed have much for which to be thankful.
Thankfulness is an important spiritual practice. Thankfulness has been defined as a mental and/or verbal expression of one’s acknowledgment and appreciation of God’s person and His grace, blessings, and sovereign work in one’s life and the world. Blogger Mark D. Robertsiii says, “I would argue that giving thanks to God is important because it honors God. But it also appeals to common sense and even self-interest. To put the matter bluntly: Gratitude will improve your life.”
The Bible tells us that thankfulness stems from realizing that everything going on in our lives and all that we have is the product of God’s sovereign control, infinite wisdom, purposes, grace, and activity (2 Corinthians 4:15).
In contrast, thanklessness can be destructive. In his series “Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: An Exegetical and Devotional Commentaryiv,” author Hampton Keathley III describes thanklessness as, “dangerous to the self and others by leading to bitterness, complaining, and a joyless life. Thanklessness promotes pettiness and preoccupation with self, other people, and problems, which in turn creates depression and feelings of hopelessness.” We believe choosing thankfulness is good for the soul!
Traditions don’t have to be grand to be meaningful. Roberts goes on to say that he once spent a rather lavish Thanksgiving in New York City. He watched the Macy’s parade and later had a fancy meal at a famous hotel. “But, no matter the grandeur of that Thanksgiving meal, it still wasn’t quite right. After all, for me, the heart of my Thanksgiving holiday was about sharing a day with family, and mine was 3,000 miles away in Southern California,” he says. “The best tasting turkey in the most opulent dining room didn’t satisfy the real longing of my heart — to be home.”
This year, family gatherings may look a little different, especially if travel isn’t viable and loved ones can’t be with each other. If you’re fortunate enough to have family and friends sharing your Thanksgiving table, don’t forget to be grateful for their presence and what they mean to you.
By cultivating thankfulness and gratitude, we hope that you’re blessed with a sense of abundance that no external circumstances can diminish. Happy Thanksgiving!