Many of us spend weeks – for some, months – getting ready for the Christmas celebration. Buying trees and ornaments, putting up decorations, planning parties, purchasing gifts. And sometimes it seems as if we still don’t have enough time. What if we were to spend as much time getting ready for the annual Thanksgiving observance?
I’m not referring to assembling all the ingredients for the meal, including turkey or ham (or both), yams, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, etc. No, I mean getting into the true spirit of Thanksgiving – preparing to be genuinely thankful. So I’m dedicating a few posts, including on the holiday itself, to consider how we could best do that. First, a bit of motivation.
Tony, one of the pastors at our church, introduced a series he called “21 Days of Thankfulness” by citing a secular study by Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a psychologist and professor at the University of California-Davis. Described as “the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude,” Emmons has written a number of books about what science has learned about being thankful, including, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
Turns out, according to his research, “We discovered scientific proof that when people regularly engage in a systematic cultivation of gratitude, they experience a variety of measurable benefits: psychological, physical, and interpersonal.”
Among those benefits are greater happiness; lasting relationships; better health; fewer aches and pains; more alertness and determination; decreased stress, anxiety and depression, and better sleep. Who knew there’s actually a selfish reason for being thankful?
Once again, it seems, science is affirming what the Bible has been saying all along. We’re told in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Another translation puts it this way: “in everything give thanks.”
When we read that, however, some among us might be tempted to argue, “Yeah, but you don’t know my circumstances!” But Philippians 4:6-7 provides this response: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Could it be that a key to this promise is found in the simple phrase, “with thanksgiving”?
Living in a materialistic society, where the virtues of consumerism are exalted – and exploited – we’re bombarded by messages that give us every reason not to be thankful. Whether it’s a car, smartphone, TV, the latest high-tech gizmos or clothing, commercials, print advertising and even news reports tell us we’ll be woefully unfulfilled if we don’t have the latest and greatest. We watch romance movies with idyllic couples that can make us wonder, “Why isn’t my relationship like that?”
The Scriptures, however, offer the antidote for such poisonous wishful thinking. “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). In other words, we should learn to feel thankful for what we have.
Getting back to Dr. Emmons, his findings support biblical teachings that warn us against the pitfalls of being greedy, covetous and envious. He stated, “Our groundbreaking research has shown that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions, such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness and optimism, and that practice of gratitude as a discipline protect a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.”
So as we gear up for Thanksgiving Day, besides planning and preparing the meal, deciding which football games to watch, and whether we’re going to see the new holiday movie that’s just come out, maybe we should try warming up our “thanksgivers.” It would be good for us!