How to Put “Thanks” Back into Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is once again just around the corner. It’s a wonderful holiday where we surround ourselves with family, friends, and food. I love this holiday as it is especially well suited for Christians, as God has blessed us in so many ways through Christ. But, I fear that we too quickly gloss over or even ignore the original purpose of the holiday, which is, of course, to give thanks.



I’ve learned a few things about thankfulness personally over the past few years that have absolutely been a life-changing experience for me.



When it comes to this subject, I meet two types of people in the world. There are those who are grumblers and complainers and those who are thankful and grateful. It is interesting to note that almost universally the person who is a complainer is much less happy than the thankful person.



If I drew a straight line on a piece of paper and on one end wrote the words “grumbler/complainer” and on the other end wrote “thankful/grateful,” which end would you be closer to on the continuum? The odds are overwhelming that you can measure your degree of happiness in life by where you place your mark.



In studying thankfulness I’ve learned a very helpful idea: Thankfulness is a key, which unlocks your depressive emotions. You cannot be both thankful and depressed at the same time. They are opposite emotions. You can be sad, hurt, or angered and still be thankful; but you can’t be depressed and still be thankful.



It was the apostle Paul who said that we should “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” (I Thess. 5:18). But for many of us, the attitude of thankfulness does not come easy. We’ve learned from our past to complain our way through most circumstances.



My initial reaction to the verse was perhaps similar to yours. Thankfulness is fine when things are going well, but how can it be God’s will for me to be thankful when my parents’ divorce, when I have relationship problems, when my child is sick, when my candidate loses, and with everything else that is wrong in the world? Is this verse telling me I should rejoice and be thankful for family problems or hunger or other tragedies in life?



No! If you look closely you’ll see that Paul is not telling you to be thankful for these things; rather we are to be thankful in our circumstances. There is a major difference between being thankful for every situation in life and being thankful in those situations. He challenges us to find reasons to be thankful even in the worst of struggles.



Thankfulness is an attribute that transcends your circumstances. No matter what your circumstances, I believe there is reason to be thankful in them. Your circumstances may never change, but your attitude toward them can change and that will make all the difference. 



Above the stove in a friend’s home is the modern proverb, “I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” We must face the fact that some of our experiences may not be the best. But, we can always be thankful for what we do have.



I love the story of an elderly blind woman who was being moved to a nursing home. When she arrived, she was taken to her room. She entered and told her attendant enthusiastically, “I love it!” The attendant questioned the woman, “How can you say you love it, when you’ve never been in it before, and you can’t see what it looks like?” The woman spoke up, “Seeing the room doesn’t have anything to do with it. Happiness is my choice. I have decided to love my room. Every morning, I have a choice on whether I focus on what I don’t like about my life or what I do like about it. I’m choosing right now to love the new room where I’m going to live.”



Christians have a special reason to adopt the attitude of gratitude, because we know that whatever comes, our times are in God’s hands. It was Jesus who said, in effect, “So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow, too,” (see Matt. 6:34).



I’m told it takes three weeks to form a habit, and another three weeks to solidify that habit. In my struggle to develop the habit of thankfulness, I tried an experiment I called “Thank Therapy.”



Thank Therapy is simply focusing on the many things in my life for which I can be thankful. When I first tried this, I took out a notebook and wrote at the top, “Twenty Reasons Why I’m Thankful.” The first few were easy; but in my depressed emotional state I really struggled to write down twenty reasons why I was thankful. Thank Therapy is an act of the will to concentrate on the good and not the bad.



No matter what your circumstances, you can find reasons to be thankful. Why not take a few minutes, grab a notebook and pen, and make your own list of things for which you can be thankful. Recently I spoke to a group of people about what I’d been learning in the area of thankfulness, and I challenged them to make a list. Here are a few things they were thankful for: Jesus Christ, forgiveness and new life, parent’s love, eye glasses (“if I didn’t wear them I wouldn’t be able to see”), rain (“it brings green and freshness to our land”), health, a car (“it would be a long walk to work!”)



When you focus on positive things in your life and give thanks for them, the load seems lighter. Make thankfulness a habit in your life and watch good things happen.



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Jim Burns

Jim Burns

Jim Burns is the President of HomeWord and the Executive Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Jim speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has close to 2 million resources in print in 30 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books are: Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage and Closer. Jim and his wife, Cathy live Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca and Heidi.

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