Family Bytes

Re-defining Gratitude: It's Not What You Think It Is

Halloween is over and Christmas shopping season has officially begun.

Our society used to pause with family and friends to give thanks for all we have before armoring up for Black Friday’s shopping battle. However, somewhere along the way it became normal that gratitude was highly over-rated.

Now, our society quickly moves from gorging ourselves on bite-sized chocolate bars to over indulging others with gifts … hoping we will be showered with gifts in return. Thanksgiving is pit-stop along the holiday way, where we take a few hours to refuel before finishing the mad dash to the perfect Christmas experience.

Okay, okay … I’m not as cynical as this may lead you to believe. I have to admit, often I don’t make gratitude a high priority in my life.

It’s probably because I’ve misunderstood its importance.

I used to think that being thankful was either an emotion or an obligation, a reaction to the exciting or unexpected in our lives, or the polite response we should have when someone does something nice…

But it’s not. So we need to redefine gratitude!

Gratitude is not a feeling, reaction or even obligation. Gratitude is a discipline.

Much like exercise, budgeting or eating right, the act of being grateful takes self-training. It doesn’t come easily, or even naturally, but if we do it on a regular basis it will have a profound impact on the way we live.

Here are a few ways this discipline can change us and how to exercise it.

1) Gratitude brings clarity to stressful seasons of life.

We all handle stress differently.

Some people withdraw, while others lash out.
Some become sad, while others get angry.
Some hyper-focus and get things done, while others can’t seem to concentrate on anything.

All of these responses can cloud judgment and affect the way we view life.

Gratefulness during stress is not designed to minimize or deny our emotional experience.

Rather, gratitude provides perspective.

When times are hectic, it’s hard to see past the areas of life demanding our immediate attention. When we intentionally take time to be thankful, we see the good in these tough times or even enjoy other areas of our life we tend to ignore when things get crazy.

2) Gratitude keeps us from over-indulging our already over-indulged lives.

My 5 years old makes a daily announcement on what she is adding to her ever-growing Christmas list. She never says “I want a new…” it’s more like “I neeeed…” 

Adults do the same thing. We convince ourselves we need a bigger house with an extra bedroom for the out of town guests that visit once or twice a year. We need the latest, largest and smartest high definition TV to make family movie nights even more amazing. My personal favorite, we need a pool. After all, we want our home to be the place the kids’ friends hang out … right?

There is nothing wrong with wanting any of these things.

The question is, when does it feel like we have enough? When do we have enough clothes, gadgets, toys, or square footage?

When will we know we are satisfied? Gratitude answers that question. 

Try it. List the top ten people or things you are thankful for. Now put them in order from most thankful to least. Did the TV make the list? How about the pool? 

Our gratitude invests in areas that matter most, by protecting us from the distraction of over-indulgence.

3) Gratitude provides depth to our relationships.

When I listed the people in my life I am most thankful for, I asked, “What is it about this person that makes them so special to me?”

I love my wife’s strength. My 10 year old’s courage. My 8 year old’s inquisitive nature. My 7 year old is incredibly creative and sensitive. My 5 year old is so full of joy.

In the busyness of life, I forget these wonderful qualities and focus on less important things, like wondering if someone took out the trash.

Gratitude reminds and requires us to acknowledge who a person is rather what a person can do for us. 

This is essential for deep relationships.

So let’s take an easy first step toward gratitude together.

Share this on social media, and we'll do it with our friends too. Write down one thing you are thankful for every day until Thanksgiving. Do this in a journal, on a scrap piece of paper or online.

Then, on Thanksgiving Day, take some time to personally reflect how good God has been to you. 

Posted by Freddie Albaugh at 6:00 AM
Share |