Happy early Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the food, watching football, spending time with family… everything! So, in honor of Thanksgiving, I want to talk about the importance of expressing gratitude.
Struggle with Gratitude?
My guess is that some of you might not think you have a problem with gratitude. When I talk to folks about their problems and the things they struggle with, gratitude doesn’t usually rise to the top of the list. It doesn’t immediately jump to the front of one’s mind.
I think that’s because most of us feel pretty grateful when good things happen to us. For example, I remember one time on my birthday, my mom sent me a nice card and a check for $100. I felt really happy about that for about a minute. “How very nice of her,” I thought to myself. Or I went out to eat with a friend of mine, and as I enjoyed my fajitas, he listened to what I was going through and offered me some much needed encouragement. “I’m glad I have people like him in my life,” I thought to myself. My heart felt warm for about a minute.
These things happen to me all the time. Something good happens in my life, or someone does something nice for me, and I feel grateful for a moment. I’m aware of these inner feelings happening throughout the day. So I can’t possibly struggle with gratitude, right?
Jesus and Gratitude
Let me tell you a story from the life of Jesus, written down by a man named Luke. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. As he was walking, he came across ten men with leprosy. Leprosy was a progressive disease that caused permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes. Folks who had leprosy were basically kicked out of their communities and quarantined. (It might be similar to how we think about a disease like Ebola today.)
Jesus meets the ten men with leprosy while traveling, and they ask Him to have pity on them. Jesus heals them and tells them to go show themselves to the priest. (People who were healed of leprosy had to be checked out by the priest in order to be reintegrated into the community.) Only one of the ten men comes back and gives thanks to Jesus for healing him. The other nine… Well, we don’t know much about them, just that they don’t come back.
Now here’s the kicker: How do you think those other nine men felt on the inside when they were healed of the leprosy? I bet they felt pretty dang grateful. I bet they were jumping for joy, skipping all the way to the temple. I bet they gathered their friends and families together and had a big celebration. I bet they felt incredibly thankful… on the inside.
But they didn’t express it. They didn’t come back.
Express Your Gratitude
This was a huge lesson for me. A lot of times in my life, even though I’m feeling grateful on the inside, I don’t take the time or energy to express my gratitude.
There’s something about expressing gratitude that makes a huge difference in our lives. When I don’t express my gratitude, I often forget the things I should be thankful for. My mind moves on to something I need to do, or something I’m anxious about. I lose the opportunity to give thanks.
Expressing Gratitude Makes You Happier
Taking advantage of opportunities to express gratitude is important for my heart. Gratitude actually makes me happier. A psychologist did a research study on all these things he thought might make people happier. Two of the most effective strategies had to do with gratitude. First, people who wrote down three things they were thankful for every day got happier. Second, people who wrote a note of appreciation to someone they hadn’t properly thanked got happier. These were significant changes, from something as simple as writing a heartfelt letter.
Expressing Gratitude Makes Others Happier
Expressing gratitude is also important for the happiness of others. To put it simply, expressing gratitude to those important to us is encouraging! And the people in your life need encouragement. We all do!
Try this experiment: Next time you go to the grocery store, buy a pack of thank you cards. It’ll cost you five bucks. Then, every day for a week, think about a person in your life who you would like to thank for something. It could be something big, or it could be something little. It doesn’t matter. But every day, spend five minutes, write a note of gratitude, and mail the letter. Just see what happens. One week. It’s a complete win-win. Who is one person you would like to thank? Don’t just feel grateful feelings, express it!