On Giving Thanks

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in South Africa, it being an American holiday, but I think it’s a really neat idea.  I’m not speaking here of the commercialised holiday that is nothing more than an excuse to stuff yourself with too much food, fight with relatives and trample people in shopping malls (that is, of course, if American television portrays an accurate image of Thanksgiving).  No, I mean the idea of celebrating being thankful.

Human nature is to complain.  In fact, some people even complain when good things happen.  If they win the lottery they complain about the taxes they have to pay on their winnings.  If they win a car they complain that they don’t really like that model.  And that attitude is infectious.  Think of the break room at work.  All it takes is one person to complain.  It doesn’t matter if it’s about work, family, politics, the economy, or the pathetic performance of your favourite team.  Suddenly everyone starts gushing negativity.  And once it has started, it’s near impossible to stop the griping.  The one poor soul who might try to inject something positive into the conversation will simply become the next object of complaint.

Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians in the New Testament of the Bible, instructs us to give thanks in all circumstances.  Now, you tell me, I can get being thankful for the good things in my life.  Thank you that I’m healthy, that I have a job, that my family loves me, that I have many friends – that makes sense. But how do I say thank you that I have cancer, that I lost my job, that my wife left me, that my child is hooked on drugs?

Being thankful is more about how you look at things.  If you are thankful it becomes impossible to complain.  It forces you to examine your situation and pick out those bits that are positive.  It’s not easy.  It takes a conscious effort of will, but if you do it regularly it can become a habit.  And once you get into the habit of being thankful, it starts to effect your entire attitude.  You become so focused on the things you are thankful for, it becomes impossible to be negative, to lose hope.  You start developing an attitude of gratitude.

That’s why I like the idea of Thanksgiving so much.  It reminds people to be thankful.  To everyone in the States celebrating today, remember the day is not just about big meals and specials at Walmart.  And even if you’re elsewhere in the world, take a moment to be thankful, especially if things aren’t going so well right now, and start cultivating an attitude of gratitude.