With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, many of us are preparing our homes for guests, buying food to make a huge meal, and getting ready to celebrate. Maybe our Thanksgiving will be a low-key event with just our little family present; maybe we are traveling to someone else’s home to celebrate. Regardless of how we spend it, most of us understand that the day is set aside to remember the blessings we have in our lives.
But do we need a special day set aside to be thankful for all that God has given us? Surprisingly, the answer is yes and no. I think that it is important to come together as a nation to remember the reasons this nation was founded; to remember those who helped us start anew; to remember the bounty of the harvest. It’s important to join together and thank God for the gifts that He has blessed us with not only as individuals, but also as a nation. Despite the many problems our country faces, we still live in one of the best nations in the world. We still have a voice. We still have freedom. We still have hope. Setting aside a day to come together to remember this fact is very important.
On the flip side of that yes is an emphatic NO! We don’t need a specific day to be set aside to be thankful for God’s gifts in our lives. We can show our thanks each and every day. In fact, we ought to show our appreciation every day to God for the many blessings in our lives. Doesn’t the Bible remind us in Psalm 118, “This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it”?
Sometimes, though, it is very hard to see the blessings all around us when we feel like we are surrounded by pain and suffering. Sometimes, it is difficult to understand the blessing of the crosses we carry. Sometimes we are just so overwhelmed and our spirits are so tired that to say “thank you” seems like uttering a lie. When our hearts are broken and our souls are weak, how can we be thankful? Where can we find joy?
When I first began writing this article, I wrote out a list of everyday things that we can each be thankful for. The list was so long! It included things like a roof over my head, food in my fridge, nature, a gentle breeze, a baby’s laugh, a good book, and so many other small things that are a part of my everyday life. In compiling the list what I discovered was this – it’s easy to write a list. What’s not so easy is finding ways to show how thankful we are for the many blessings in our lives when we are faced with crosses, trials, and disappointments. So, I sat down to write another list. This one was not as easy.
How do you live a thankful life?
One of the easiest ways to live a thankful life is to just tell God thank you. Sounds easy enough, right? But what about the day your father dies, the day the bank forecloses on your home, or the day you have to send your children to your ex’s house for a visit? How do you say thank you then? In 1 Thess 5:18 we read, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I know, I know… you are thinking, “This, THIS, is what God wants for me? Really?” Yes, this is God’s will for you. It’s not that God wants you to hurt or wants you to suffer. Instead, He’s placing before you the opportunity to cling to Him when it seems there is no hope or no reason to be thankful. During these times, we can be thankful for His strong arms that will hold us up as we fall to our knees in despair.
In spite of the difficulties before us, to live a life of gratitude we must know that even within our hardships there are opportunities to be thankful. Yet, how do we do this on a daily basis, especially when there seems to be so little for which to be thankful?
Smile. Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” Often it only takes smiling to change our attitude and to change our outlook on life. Smiling can bring us joy and joy can help us remember that we have so much to be thankful for. Proverbs 17:22 reminds us that a “joyful heart is a good medicine…”
Speak and think positively. We have the ability to change our attitudes just by the way we speak and the way we think. Those who constantly speak or think negatively are shown to have negative personalities and they often struggle to find the good in life. However, science shows us that when we habitually think and speak positively we have the ability to change our brains (rewire them in fact!) and stimulate areas of our brain that produce positive feelings. Positive people are more thankful people. When faced with a challenge find at least one or two positive things that are hiding within the negatives. By focusing on the positive instead of the negative you will find more reasons to be thankful.
Do small acts of kindness for others. When we put others before ourselves and when we perform acts of kindness for others it becomes easy to see the good in our lives. When we help the less fortunate, we suddenly see how abundantly blessed we are. When we do something nice just to make someone smile, we realize how much we have to smile about ourselves. When we give of ourselves just to show how much we care for those around us, we begin to see just how much God cares for us as well. Doing for others encourages us to be thankful for what we have and for those who have helped us get to where we are today.
Trust that God will handle your worries. When we hand over our worries and troubles to God we experience a peace that we cannot experience in any other way. When our soul is at peace and when we are resting quietly in the Lord’s hands it is easy to experience gratitude. When we are not consumed with trepidation, we are more likely to look out on the world with hope. Hopeful people can find reasons to be thankful much easier than those who feel desperate, alone, and out of control.
Say thank you. Make a habit of saying thank you to those who open the door, who take your order, who deliver your mail, who tell you to have a nice day, and to those who do countless other minute things each day that make your life a little better. When we say thank you, we make a conscious effort to acknowledge those who have done something for us. That small thank you not only changes our attitude, but can change theirs as well. The more often we say thank you, the more opportunities we have to make a difference in not only our lives, but in others as well.
Keep a gratitude journal. Yes, that list I spoke about above, the one where I listed off so many little things that I could be thankful for… yes that list can help keep us centered on being grateful. There was a time in my life that I struggled to feel grateful. I had challenged myself to try to look past the regular “thank you for the roof over my head”, but some days the only thing I could write in my gratitude journal was, “Thank you, God, for allowing me to wake up this morning.” But the more often I wrote, the more I could find other things throughout my day to be thankful for. “Thank you, Lord, for the gentle hugs from my daughter today. They made me feel loved and needed.” “Thank you, God, for my husband who works so hard to provide for our family. Thank you for his love and dedication.” As I wrote in my journal each day, even on the hardest days, I found that there was so much more to be thankful for I just had to open my heart to see it.
Pray. When we pray, we often only take our needs to place before God. When you pray, begin with prayers of thanksgiving. While God knows our hearts, He does desire to hear that we appreciate all the blessings He has bestowed on us. Each and every day it is important that we stop and tell God thank you. We know how much we appreciate it when someone tells us thank you for the things we do, God loves to hear that “thank you”, too.
Every day is an opportunity to celebrate “Thanksgiving”. We don’t need a day set aside on the calendar to do so. Living a life of gratitude can be easy – practice being grateful and choose to be happy. When you do, you will find that you will be able to give thanks “in everything” just as we are called to do.