Think of someone important to you. Your wife or your mother or your professor. Maybe they’re important because of something they’ve done for you, or maybe it’s just because you like them.
If you really care about the person, it’ll be natural for you to want to show them love. Show them that you’re grateful for them.
So you think, I’m going to get a gift card to her favorite fancy restaurant to show my gratitude. You sly fox, you.
You go to the spot, pick up the card, write her name on the back or in a little note with a verse embossed inside. Maybe you put a bow on it or attach flowers.
And, ta-da, one week later you’re sitting in the restaurant at a corner table, drinking wine and eating something you can’t identify other than to say it tastes expensive.
Only, you’re eating by yourself. You didn’t bring that special person along. Didn’t even give them the card. You went through the planning and the doing by yourself, even though this was meant for another.
Well, I’m not sure why, but I know this is exactly the sort of thing we do with gratitude.
Gratitude is so often reduced to something we feel. An emotion. A thought. A heart flutter. And, as good as that flutter is, what’s the difference if we don’t do anything with it?
You wouldn’t buy a toy for your kid and never bring it home. You wouldn’t wrap a box of chocolate for your friend and never give it. You wouldn’t frame a picture of you and your boyfriend only to hide it whenever he comes around.
So why do we let thankfulness stop in our hearts and at the top of our throats? Why do we acknowledge it in our heads, but not act on it with our hands?
The hard part about thankfulness is not being thankful. That’s the easy part.
The hard part about thankfulness is showing it.
* * *
This Thanksgiving, millions of Americans will sit around their tables and say things they’re thankful for. Saying it aloud — making your thanks public — is great and proper; silent gratitude holds little weight. But imagine if that gratitude was a catalyst for action.
What would that look like for you?
It could be something as simple as a hug. Go up to your brother, put a hand on his shoulder and say, “Thanks,” and mean it. Spend time with someone for no other reason than the love that flows from a grateful heart.
Or it could be something more. Give a gift. Take your significant other to his favorite spot. Write a letter to your mentor that says how much the little things mean to you, how grateful you are for their help.
Basically, thankfulness should spur life-change. It’s so easy to talk to a friend or pray to God like this: “Thank you for this, that and the other thing.” But thankfulness is more than words or prayers. It should affect not only what we think, but how we live.
* * *
“And, did you know that thankfulness is good for you?” say the books. “It’s scientifically proven to improve physical health. Being grateful makes you happier and less stressed. And expressing thanks can really give relationships a boost.”
Okay, I believe all that. There are a lot of good byproducts of a grateful heart.
But… (you knew there was a but coming)… the benefits to your health and quality of life aren’t the reason you should show thanks.
Showing thanks — living it out, not just thinking thankful thoughts — should be our inclination whether or not there’s a payoff.
Saying “Thank you” might not guarantee a “Your welcome” in return. Giving a hug doesn’t necessitate reciprocation. Some people won’t appreciate your appreciation. And that’s okay.
Even if gratefulness were bad for us, it’s still something we should have and do.
Being grateful won’t get you into heaven, but that’s not why we give thanks. We give thanks for what’s happened, what is happening (even if what’s happening seems like a trial), and what will happen in the future, not because we might get something out of it, but because it’s the right response to all those things in life that are really just grace.
Some parents give their young children a quarter or a piece of candy when they’re first being taught to say “Thank you.” While that’s all well and good, it’s not the way the real world works, or even how it should. When the toddler is weaned off the rewards, will they be like Pavlov’s dogs, salivating for a reward that isn’t coming?
This problem can be averted simply by recognizing what gratefulness is and does. It is the soul’s memory pouring out a response — a response that once was natural, but in our world must often be learned. Its purpose is to be the reward, not to earn one. (“I’m grateful that you’re grateful that I’m grateful that you’re grateful…” ad infinidum.)
And, possibly, it’s not even a reward; it’s just the natural result. It’s the other half of the equation. When a good thing happens — or when a bad thing doesn’t happen (just think about that for five seconds) — that’s the cause for which the effect is a recognition of thankfulness.
Then, when we consider all our blessings — and we only recognize one in a million — all those thoughts of thankfulness become acts of thankfulness, and all those acts together, by grace, become a lifetime of thankfulness.
Ask yourself, if you’re not practicing those acts of thankfulness, are you really thankful?
Living out gratitude is harder than merely being grateful. But if thankfulness is real in us, living it out will be the only possible end.