Next week in the U.S. we will celebrate Thanksgiving, a national holiday that originated as a harvest festival wrapped around the idea of giving thanks. The holiday gives us an opportunity to get together with family, enjoy delicious food and maybe watch the Macy’s parade and a football game.
Perhaps most important, Thanksgiving is a day to reflect on the things for which we are grateful, a time to rejoice in what we have. It’s great that we have a single day to commemorate thankfulness. But isn’t being thankful something we should be doing on a regular basis, even every day?
The fact is, it can be hard to be grateful and even harder to express our gratitude. Sometimes we just don’t think in terms of being grateful, or showing our gratitude openly.
There’s a story in the Gospel of Luke about Jesus healing 10 men who had leprosy. Only one of the 10 went back to thank Jesus. Whenever I hear that story I wonder, what’s the deal with the other nine? Why did they not express their gratitude for such a great gift?
We’ll never know if they were actually thankful for what happened. Did they not feel like going back to express their gratitude? Were they too focused on their good fortune to even feel grateful?
I like to consider myself a generally grateful person. But I’m probably like the other nine more often than I’d prefer to think. Someone might do something nice for me and it might not occur to me, at least not right away, to feel grateful and express my thanks.
Another barrier to feeling thankful is something called the negativity bias. This is a learned bias, where things of a more negative nature such as unpleasant thoughts, emotions or social interactions have a greater effect on our psychological state than neutral or positive things.
Our brains prioritize the negatives over the positives. When we’re focused on the negative things, it’s difficult to feel grateful.
Then there’s the problem of envy. As covered in a previous post, being envious of others can be a barrier to gratitude. It’s in our nature to compare ourselves with others. And sometimes these comparisons are based on information that’s not even real but imagined. Either way, the comparisons can make us feel like we want something someone else has.
In addition to envy, things like greed, pride, narcissism, materialism and cynicism can keep us from feeling grateful and expressing thanks.
The good news is we can overcome these blockades to gratefulness. It just takes some effort and practice.
Why not start on the very day that focuses on giving thanks? Make a mental note—or a written one if your short-term memory is like mine—that every day holds something to be thankful for. Maybe this will inspire you to start a daily habit of thinking of one or two things you are grateful for each day, and if possible and appropriate, expressing thanks.
Of course, you can start this anytime. I just thought it might make for a more special Thanksgiving, because you will remember it as the day you began to look at gratitude in a new way.
“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.”—Henry Van Dyke
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