Thankfulness seems like a fitting topic with Thanksgiving Day just around the corner in the United States. However, I am like a three year old when it comes to wanting to know things about life; I always ask “why”.
Thankfulness, gratefulness, appreciativeness. What is it all about? Yes, there is a game, but it is introduced at the end. First…
I will share a bit of what I have gleaned from life and from others on some reasons why to cultivate thankfulness. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather enough to satisfy a three year old.
First of all, it helps you be healthier and happier. Neil Pasricha in his book, The Happiness Equation, says that finding 5 things to be grateful for is one of 7 things you can do to train your brain to be happier. He goes on to say that a study was done by researchers Michael McCullough and Robert Emmons in 2003 with students that were divided into 3 groups. One group was to write down 5 things that were hassles, another group was assigned to write down 5 gratitudes, and the last group just had to write down 5 events that occurred. They were to do this weekly for ten weeks. It was found at the end of the ten weeks that the students in the 5 gratitude group were not only happier, but also healthier.
Second, thankfulness rewires our brain. Author of How to Live a Good Life, Jonathan Fields, claims that research shows that we all more or less have a negativity bias. It is our default. But gratitude is the antidote.
Third, practicing thankfulness can also be great as a gentle sleep inducer. Just about every night while I am lying in bed thinking of 5 different things that I am grateful for I fall asleep before I am done.
Fourth, you are more pleasant to be around, thus you will probably have more friends. You really cannot be a grateful person and also known as a complainer/grumbler
Fifth, you will be pleasing to God.
One thing I have become convinced of is that thankfulness is a discipline. (Before all of you free spirits balk and stop reading, discipline is good. Without it the world would be in a sorry state of affairs.) So if you want to become more thankful it is going to take some effort.
One technique mentioned in The Success Principles by Jack Canfield is called the “Rampage of Appreciation”, an exercise coined by Jerry and Esther Hicks. You are supposed to look around and find something you like and then let your mind dwell on it. Then you are supposed to keep dwelling on it until you feel “your appreciation expanding”. Not a bad idea.
And some people recommend keeping a gratitude journal and writing in it every day, say 3-5 things. I prefer to just list them in my head, but I can see the value in writing them down.
Another way to be thankful is the good old fashioned saying “Grace” before meals.
Also, try hitting the pause button during the day by trying to catch yourself when you start feeling grumpy. Instead, think of something that you are thankful for.
This reminds me of the Bible verse, Philippians 4:8, where Paul encourages us to let our minds dwell on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, and worthy of praise.
There are multiple places in the Bible where we are reminded to be thankful. Here are two of them: that we should “always giving thanks for all things”, (Ephesians 5:20), and in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we are told to “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”. If God says something is a good thing to do, I believe it and know that He has a good reason for it.
Below are some kinds of things to be thankful for, more specific than “all things” and “everything” spoken about above, in case you feel at a loss or your mind goes blank. It’s funny how it does that in regards to thankfulness.
- The wonders around us – Everything God created such as music, colors, animals, mountains, trees, the night sky, cells, molecules, the human brain, granite boulders, etc.
- People – Spouses, children, grandchildren, other relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, the grocery store clerk, policemen, military, and so on.
- Man’s creative ability – Man has created so many amazing things such as Michelangelo’s ceiling painting in the Sistene chapel, the Golden Gate Bridge, Disneyland, the song All Along the Watchtower, the brilliant, amusing, quotable movie Elf, and even a child’s play-doh creation or drawing of his family.
- Glimpses into the nature of God – From newborns to majestic mountains to the sun sparkling on ocean waves to a beautiful song, all of these shout numerable messages about God and His tenderness, His sense of beauty, His awesomeness, and so much more. These like these just cause my heart to exult.
- Things – I wouldn’t be quite honest if I did not include carnal things like warm showers, a car, cozy bed, books, iPhones, clothes, guitars, eye glasses, and such. This list could go on ad infinitum.
- God’s character – His sovereignty, omniscience, omnipotence, abounding love, wisdom, justice, and many other traits are grounds for gratefulness. I often think of God’s goodness, glad that He is not a super powerful evil being like Jafar in the movie Aladdin.
- The more mundane things that we tend to take for granted like paved roads, the sun came out again today, our beating heart, etc.
- God’s past actions – Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the USA becoming a country, Hitler being stopped and the world recovering from that awful war, the parting of the Red Sea, and much more deserve our deep gratitude.
- Trials – Yes, I said it. Trials produce in us things that cannot be produced in any other way. When we endure trials, they make us into stronger, more resilient, more empathetic, wiser, more resourceful people. I would never pray for a trial, but looking back I can certainly see how they have been used in my life to make me a better person.
The Thanksgiving Game
That all said, I love games and love to invent games. Here is a simple one to try with whoever you are with now or on Thanksgiving Day. Each person writes down on a piece of paper 3 things they are thankful for that they don’t think they ever thought of before. Or another twist could be things they think the other person/people may have never thought of to be thankful for. Then go around and share. Here are my three (and now my random photos in this post will make more sense to you):
- I am thankful for my new leather moccasins, which I just put together from a kit one of my sisters bought for me. (They allow me to ground without being barefoot.)
- I am thankful for succulent plants that defy death even though I forget to water them. They make me feel less like a loser.
- I am thankful that I have books scribbled in by grandchildren…because that reminds me that precious children are in my life.
This is a game where everyone gets to be a winner because it causes the brains to focus on what there is to be thankful for. I apologize to those of you who are super competitive. However, if you really want, you could all vote on whose was the most unique or clever! Have you ever been thankful for any of those things that I came up with? No? Then I get 3 points if we are playing the second version.
I can truly say that this year I am happier than I was last year. And it has nothing to do with circumstances. If anything, the trials and heartaches have been greater. The difference is that I have made happiness and enjoying life an active pursuit. I must quickly add that it takes a lot of practice and that I still have much to learn. However, I have found the life provides plenty of lessons.
Happy Thanksgiving! Or should I say Happy Giving Thanks…
See my page called Finding Happiness for more related articles here.