When we think of "thanksgiving" some of us immediately connect the idea to the historical narrative of Europeans, mainly Puritans, coming to the western hemisphere to bring into reality a dream they had for a better future. While there is much debate over whether that story played out in a just manner, it has resulted in this day...this season for giving thanks.
But what has happened to Thanksgiving?
For some, it has become a time to wrestle with issues of justice and restitution. Others connect the pilgrim narrative to the current refugee crisis happening all around the world. Still others think of Thanksgiving as a time for family & friends to celebrate together. I hate to bring it up, but Thanksgiving for many is just a kick off to the materialism of Christmas. (but that is an entirely different conversation) Finally, some of us think of two words when we think of Thanksgiving...turkey & football!
Whatever it is in your mind today about this day, I'd like to challenge or encourage you to make it something that makes you a better person and makes the world a better place. Make Thanksgiving the ignition point for you to practice and develop gratitude. Gratitude is different and arguably more important than giving thanks. Being grateful is actually good for you. Here's the research. Gratitude is a condition of our heart that is connected to how we see the world and other people. Do you often find yourself thinking about what you don't have? Just ask somebody close to you. Does happiness seem to be a future event associated with a better job, better place to live, better relationship? Then maybe the character trait of gratitude needs to be developed or is absent altogether.
Giving thanks is the action that flows out of a heart of gratitude. Giving thanks without being grateful is simply being polite. A person with a grateful heart is more aware of what they have and the good that they are experiencing in the world. They also have a sense that it comes from outside themselves. At Church51, this is the idea behind being fully human by being generative, which flows from a trait called "wholeness." But it all starts with gratitude.
One of the easiest ways to develop gratitude is to periodically pause and take note of what you DO have. This is easiest to notice when you serve others or are around people that are more broken than you. So between now and the end of the year, make it a goal each day, to take an inventory of what you have and the goodness you experience. It's even better if you write it down. So, is this politically correct? I don't think that is the right question. Gratitude allows our hearts to be unlocked from the bitterness of past wounds and injustices and gives all humans a chance to expand the good in the world. The right question is, "what can I do to become a better person and expand the good in the world?"
With all of that in mind, I'd offer you this wish and prayer with a new understanding...
Happy Thanksgiving! I'm grateful for you,
P.S. You can also get some more tangible help in developing your sense of gratitude. I do one-on-one human capacity mentoring for an organization called the International Mentoring Network and I can actually help you design practices that will change your character, improve relationships and make you more productive and valuable in the market place. If you'd like to talk about scheduling some coaching or mentoring, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org.