Thankfulness: Fact or Fiction

Perhaps you’re nothing like me. You should only be so lucky, because I can be an unthankful hassle to myself. I’m not trying to be pious or beat myself up publicly; but I try very hard to be honest in my self-assessments. It has been said that dishonest people are first dishonest with themselves before they become dishonest with others; and one of the most pervasive deceits this time of year is trying to convince ourselves and the world around us that we’re thankful. I have no idea how thankful or unthankful you are. I can only speak for myself.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to reflect—ask yourself a couple tough questions and be friendly enough to yourself to be brutally honest. This is, in my opinion, the reason why America officially adopted the observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. I like food, football, and discounts, but if you’re not careful, these can distract you from the core of this special day. Are you living like a thankful person?

Use your imagination. Envision the hypothetical thankful person in your mind. How does this person talk to others? How does this person act during confrontation? Thankfulness is more than being happy that you’re wealthier than 90% of the world and that you live in the most powerful country in the world. Thankfulness is more than counting your blessings. While I think this exercise has great value, there’s more to the puzzle. These exercises are tools, which, if left in the drawer or on the workbench, have no value unless they are used to mold and make something. After you’ve counted your blessings, ask yourself how you ought to live differently in light of this.

Question #1: Does your thankfulness compel you to do good to other people?

By definition, thankful people are convinced they have plenty. The most important parts of my life were given to me without me earning them. As a Christian, I believe these were given by my benevolent Creator. If you believe nothing about God, you still have to be intellectually honest enough to admit you are not responsible for your DNA being what it is. You did not choose where you were born. You were not involved in bartering or competing to eliminate mutations from your genome that could have caused you to be chronically ill or disabled. You did not choose which inherent skills you have. These things were there when you were born through no work of your own. These, coupled with health, strength, love, passion, direction, and support are the most valuable assets a human can possess. These are the foundation of human society. You have them. With these gifts, you have hopefully found a way to earn other gifts, such as food, shelter, clothing, and so much more; but none of it would have been available to you without those foundational gifts that you did not earn. If you have plenty, and your response is that you want more and you demonstrate little or no interest in helping those who have less than you, you are unthankful. If however, you have plenty, and as a result you feel compelled to give to others freely the way God (or the mysterious cosmos for you atheists) gave to you, you are most likely a thankful person. Of course, the plot thickens, and many people do nice things for people for the wrong reasons, like appeasing their violated conscience or trying to impress someone; but these are outside the scope of this post.

Question #2:  How much of your mental time/energy is spent thinking about what you don’t have instead of thinking about how to better enjoy what you already have?

That’s a long question, so go back and read it again. I’ll wait. I've noticed a funny thing about unthankful people—they often have a TON OF STUFF. Not only stuff, but they are signed up for all the cool services and conveniences. They have “it all” (whatever that is) and yet they are painstakingly seeking more. And by “they” I mean me. I’ll try not to hide behind the infamous “they.”  And to be clear, by “funny,” I mean a little sad and pathetic. It’s sad that someone that has so many things doesn't take the time or put in the effort to really enjoy what he has. For instance, I have a video camera. It spends most of its time sitting in a drawer. It gets lonely. It hates my iPad. Do I need a new video camera? My ego says yes. My wife says no. Just kidding. I say no too. We always agree. That’s a lie. But seriously, maybe before I go wasting my money on a new toy, I should start learning how to take really cool videos. Maybe I should spend some time and energy learning how to edit videos and add voice-overs so my videos reach a new level of awesome. Here’s another one: how about I spend a bunch of money on some exercise equipment? Because, as you all know, purchasing exercise equipment just magically sculpts your body. That’s what the commercials said. A better idea is to start working out with free or inexpensive things to see if I’m disciplined enough to stick to a long-term workout commitment. 

Ungrateful people stockpile stuff into their castles and let it sit there, unused and unappreciated. If you’re doing this, quit it.

So you've asked yourself two tough questions. You’re coming to a conclusion about how thankful you are. If you feel you need to make some adjustments, write them down and start tomorrow. I’m not a weirdo, but I think our mind has a powerful ability to move toward a goal. Set a goal by visualizing yourself as the thankful person you want to be. Write down some details about what that person would do tomorrow and what it wouldn't do. Go for it.

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