Giving thanks for what we have and the people we are surrounded by shouldn’t just be a holiday event; it should be a way of life, but how do we achieve that?
John Kralik’s life was a disaster.
He was battling through his second divorce. He had grown distant from his two older children. He was contemplating not being able to pay his employees their Christmas bonuses because clients were failing to pay their bills. He was broke, living on broke food and overweight from a poor diet and hours spent at his desk trying to make all the pieces fit.
That New Years, he went on a hike; and up in the hills, he made a resolution. He was going to write one thank you note each day for the next year.
His first notes were simple, clumsy. They quickly began to extend from family and coworkers to old college buddies, his doctor, the neighbors, a store clerk. People responded, friendships were rekindled and bit by bit his life began to turn around.
Forbes writer Omaid Homayun, inspired by Kralik’s life, wrote, “To paraphrase Edmund Wilson, gratitude is one of those rare things you get more of by giving it away.”
Missing the Definition of Gratitude
Researchers have found that regular practices of gratitude not only make us feel happier but also may help us sleep better and even have stronger immune systems.
Why, though, does being thankful have such incredible impact?
Plenty of articles about positivity litter the internet: “How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity” or “How Positivity Makes You Healthy and Successful.” This all falls very neatly into line with Buddha’s alleged saying, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.”
A religious version of Descartes’s whole ‘I think, therefore I am’ postmodern fallacy is probably not the best place to start in order to find the renewed meaning and peace that gratitude grants us.
We can talk for hours about all the benefits of optimism, but none of that really helps us understand why gratitude needs to be a vital part of our minds and lives.
First, we have to answer the question: What is gratitude?
Berkeley researcher Summer Allen wrote in her study The Science of Gratitude, “Most people have an instinctive understanding of what gratitude is, but it can be surprisingly difficult to define. Is it an emotion? A virtue? A behavior?”
Our hazy understanding of thankfulness, what exactly it is, could be one of the biggest roadblocks between us and understanding why it’s so incredibly important.
The First State of Humanity
What if gratitude was our original condition?
In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had everything and lived in intimate communion with God, innocently dependent on him for every good thing in their lives. We can all agree that the Fall composed of Satan deliberately calling into question God’s graciousness and if he’d given humanity’s parents everything they ‘deserved.’
The first sin involved a breakdown of gratitude. Obviously, that wasn’t everything, but it was a critical component.
Entitlement has done nothing but hurt us ever since.
Comedian Louis C K expressed this on the "Late Night With Conan O’ Brien" show, “Everything is amazing right now, and nobody’s happy.” He points out how people complain how horrible airports and airplanes are. “What happened next? Did you fly in the air, incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight? You’re sitting in a chair in the sky!”
The moment we slip into the mentality of ‘I’m a good person; I deserve to have this good thing,’ we set ourselves up in a god-like position of having the right to demand more. This is when we forget who God is and who we are in relation to our eternal maker.
As Abraham Lincoln said in his 1863 address, “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.
“To these bounties which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of almighty God.”
Gratitude With Every Breath
If doubting God’s willingness to provide for us exactly what we need is the kernel at the heart of sin, then German sociologist and philosopher Georg Simmel very appropriately observed, “Gratitude is the moral memory of mankind.”
We recall, in some small way, our sanctified nature when we practice gratitude.
In a devotional, David Wilkerson pointed out where God gently moves us toward this way of living in the Bible, “’Rejoice always, pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17).
“God’s children should make it a matter of conscience to rejoice in him at all times and in every circumstance. Rejoicing is not our choice; it is God’s command. If we treat these words as an option, we undermine God’s imperative to us….
“A practical side of rejoicing is that it cannot be sustained if it is not continually exercised. Do not neglect this great portion of God’s salvation lest it become shriveled and crippled and too sluggish to sing out love songs to Jesus. But constant use will make it a strong fiber of your soul; willing and able to control every other emotion. Make the choice today to seek after the serene life of godliness and gratitude.”
Theologian and author, G.K. Chesterton echoed this sentiment in his writings, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
Dear brothers and sisters, in all things, let us give thanks.