Thankfulness: Why We Aren’t and Why We Should Be
Kylie sat snuggled in a circle of 8thgrade girls. As their youth leader, she was eager to hear how each would answer the ice breaker question: Name three things you’re thankful for.
“Food, family and friends” the first girl declared boldly.
“Food, family and friends,” said the second girl, too. As did the third.
Not exactly the original, authentic kind of sharing my daughter hoped for. Kylie quickly realized these girls needed a bit of direction if the conversation was ever going to get off the ground.
“Hold on. New Rule: You can’t repeat each other. If someone says it, think of something else”.
Kylie’s mandate was received with a wall of blank stares; a sea of deer-in-the-headlights expressions, as if she’d asked them to recite the preamble to the constitution (which, by the way, might have been easier).
Then…silence. (Insert awkward cricket noises)
What’s going on here? Why is it so difficult to look beyond the expected answer (food, family, friends) and come up with something–anything–to be thankful for?
We need an honest look at thankfulness, one where we consider why we aren’t thankful, and why we should be.
Because people who live without gratitude never find true happiness. Or contentment. Or joy.
And what, in heavens name, are we doing to raise a generation of kids who have such little concept of how blessed they are? Of how blessed we all are?
Honestly, though, I can’t point the finger: like a self-centered middle schooler, I can forget how much I have to be thankful for. Sure, holidays like Thanksgiving provide pause to reflect on my blessings, but what about the other 364 days of the year?
Just last week I prayed for God to bless me, but then I heard His tender whisper: You already are.
4 Things We Need to Know about Thankfulness
1. Our Human Tendency is to Forget to Give Thanks
In Luke 17 Jesus heals ten lepers. Only one, however, went back to say “thank you”. And although math isn’t my strong suit, even I can calculate the percentage here.
Weren’t all ten happy they were healed? Didn’t all ten receive a blessing? Didn’t all ten get what they wanted? Of course.
However, getting what we want and feeling happy doesn’t always translate into thankfulness.
Why is this important to note?
Because happiness is self-focused (Do I feel good? Am I pleased with the way things turned out? Did I get my way?). Thankfulness, though, forces us to look beyond ourselves.
We live in a world where preoccupation with self is epidemic–and it’s making us miserable. Gratitude is the antidote to the poison of self-preoccupation.
Who is one person you’ve neglected to thank? A parent? A spouse? A co-worker? Say “thank-you” today!
2. Thankfulness Changes Us
Many people think, I’ll be thankful when I have something to be thankful about.
But as we’ve just seen, happiness doesn’t automatically translate into giving thanks.
However, giving thanks translates into happiness.Happiness doesn't automatically translate into giving thanks but giving thanks translates into happiness. Click To Tweet
Perhaps this is one reason why giving thanks is God’s will for us. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
I used to think giving thanks was for God’s benefit; now I’m convinced it’s for mine.
Recent studies confirm that the act of thankfulness changes the chemistry in our brain, making us happier, healthier people.
“The practice of gratitude increases your dopamine and seratonin production (“feel good” hormones) which encourages your brain to seek more of the same. It’s the brain saying, ‘Oh, do that again’ which means the more you are grateful for, the more you will find to be grateful for.”
What good can you see in a difficult circumstance? Resilience? Maturity? Growth? Give thanks in that circumstance, even if you struggle to give thanks for it.
3. Thankfulness Has the Biggest Impact When It’s Expressed
For thankfulness to really change things (including you and me) it must be expressed. We have to say it, write it, or show it.
No one benefits from unexpressed gratitude. Not me. Not my family. Not my friends. Not my co-workers. Not the barista who brews my coffee, or the waiter who provides amazing service, or the business owner who goes the extra mile.
It’s not merely feeling thankful that changes relationships, attitudes, and circumstances; it’s expressing it.
Maybe that’s why they call it “Giving Thanks”.
When our gratitude becomes public our perspective becomes positive.
But there’s more! (and you’re going to love this…)
Thankfulness is contagious. If just one person (remember the one in ten?) expresses gratitude, other people begin to lean toward thanksfulness, too. If you want the people around you (your kids, your co-workers, your friends) to be less entitled and more grateful don’t tell them to be thankful.
Show them how: Talk about your blessings.
4. Thankfulness is an Intentional Act of Worship
King David wrote,
“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1).
Did you notice David said, “I will give thanks”? Giving thanks is a choice. Gratitude is a decision. Thankfuless is intentional. We either choice to thank God, or we will forget to thank God (there’s the one in ten, again!).
Of course, it’s easy to forget to give thanks.
But life change, soul change, brain change, atmosphere change, and family change becomes possible when we remember to give thanks.
So, what are you thankful for? Express it by leaving a comment below.
(P.S. I’ll go first!
I’m thankful for YOU! I’m thankful I have the opportunity to connect with you here, to share just a bit of what God is teaching me in the hopes it encourages you, too. I’m thankful I’ve met so many of you while speaking across the country (actually, the world!) and for many others I hope to meet in the future.)
More than a Bible teacher, Donna is a self-described Bible explainer. A colorful storyteller who combines Biblical truth with real-life anecdotes, her messages not only help listeners understand God’s Word, but most important, grasp how to live it out in real life.