Thanksgiving 2022: What is gratitude?
Yesterday, my wife and I spoke to a pastor’s wife whose husband (a close friend) recently died of a heart attack. She’s now making a heroic effort to raise three young children alone and working multiple jobs to support the family. After we’d hung up, my wife and I just held each other for several long minutes. Perhaps it sounds selfish, but I confess that the same thought was running through both our minds.
What if that was us?
The conversation was a solid reminder that we’re on this earth for a moment. The blink of an eye in a cosmic sense. Whatever wealth we’ve accumulated, whatever stuff we’ve bought, will quickly become irrelevant. The only thing that will outlast us is the influence that we’ve had upon those with whom we’ve interacted. The relationships we’ve built—or not.
It made us both realize how grateful we are to be alive.
Gratitude vs materialism
In America we’re approaching Thanksgiving, a time once intended to be a day of prayer and fasting but has now become synonymous with shopping, turkey, and football. But there’s also the element of gratitude that we must not forget. Gratitude is choosing to appreciate what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t have. In a sense, it’s the ultimate antithesis to the dissatisfaction that drives commercialism.
On Black Friday–or maybe Thanksgiving itself–thousands of Americans will swarm stores, trying to get the latest phone or snag a deal. That’s not always a bad thing. But perhaps we should put more attention on what we’ve been given instead of falling prey to the illusion that buying something will make us (or someone else) happy.
The humbling reminder
The Bible continuously reminds us to be thankful. Gratitude is a humbling reminder that there are things we cannot achieve on our own. For example, the breath that fills our lungs, the birds that fly or the sun that paints a breathtaking masterpiece each sunset. On a practical level, the length of our life or our health are all beyond our control.
It’s humbling, really. And, in a time where entitlement and self-love seem to be hardwired into our collective psychology, it’s more important than ever to stop and appreciate the underserved blessings that have come our way.
Gratitude impacts us by making us better people. It teaches us to focus on the small things instead of always dreaming or waiting for the “big moments” in life. As a kid, I read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (all 1,400 pages!). One of the striking lessons is the importance of valuing the ordinary, and finding happiness in simplicity instead of excess. For example, a nobleman-turned-prisoner relishes eating a tiny piece of potato slowly and feels more grateful than he did when he had delicious meals at his disposal. When we value the simple treasures that God bestows, we become the wealthiest of people.
This Thanksgiving let’s put down our devices and pick up meaningful conversations. Let’s tear down walls and (re) build bridges. All the wealth or prestige can never replace the value of one hug or a kind word. Let’s focus on what we have instead of what we’re lacking.
Above all, let’s be grateful for the simple fact that we are alive. For as long as there is life, there is hope.
During the day list three things that you’re grateful for. When you’ve mastered this step, challenge yourself with 5 things.