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Kylie sat a safe six feet apart in a circle of teenage 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.

Kylie’s question 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 find something–anything–to be thankful for? Especially in 2020.

Admittedly, 2020 has been a difficult year. The chaos has left us fragile. Frankly, it’s easier to focus on things we are not grateful for than look for things we are grateful for.

I know this has been true for me.

But, 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.

Honestly, I sometimes live like a self-centered teenager. I forget how much I have to be thankful for–even in 2020. 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.

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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.

You are loved,


Did you know you can connect with Donna on Instagram? You’ll find her @donnaajones.


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.


  • Laurie Guy says:

    I am thankful that God is in control. I am thankful for family and friends. I am thankful for those who use their God given gifts to bless and help others, like you Donna! While growing up, our children heard us say “attitude of gratitude” often. They still say it to each other. Our son and his wife say it to their children. The sense of entitlement that comes from living in the OC is real but not in our household. We choose joy and focus on the positives.

  • Matshepo Seletswane says:

    Im thankful for your teachings, I find them to be easy to understand and study. Thankful for my family and friends, my health and job. Thank you, coming all the way from South Africa!

    • donnajones says:

      Wow! You’re writing from South Africa! Thank you so much for letting me know, and for your kind words. May God bless you and your family in every way. 🙂

  • Adyam G. says:

    Wowo I am Thankful for 2020 so much even though things went wrong direction…. but I found time with my family a lot, no 5am alarm wake up, no schedule most important was reading my bible time to take thing easy and slow. I am Thankful for you Donna. And ofcourse everyone around me family friends and neighbors.
    And most important God answering my prayers!!!