If you’re like me, you’re finding it hard to believe November is here. (And again, if you’re like me, you’re probably also grateful that we’ll soon be putting this difficult year behind us.)
But ready or not, here we are. Most of the leaves have fallen from my backyard maple, the sun goes down before dinner, and we’ve already turned on the furnace a couple of times. The holidays are upon us, and while I’m trying valiantly to ignore the Christmas lights, decorations, and merchandise that have appeared much too early for my taste, I’m ready for Thanksgiving. (Well, I’m emotionally and mentally ready. I still have to buy sweet potatoes and roast the turkey and things like that. You know, the actual work.)
This year my parents are coming to our house to celebrate, along with my sister and her family. My nephew and his wife, newlyweds who live in Chicago, will be joining us, and another nephew is bringing a friend from college who won’t be able to go home. So we’ll have a full house, and we’ll have a lot of fun. We’ll take some time to share what we’re thankful for, and predictably, toward the top of our lists will be the people in the room.
I’m not all that fond of stuffing and gravy, but we eat a pretty traditional Thanksgiving meal anyway. I don’t really like leftovers either, but for some reason my husband just can’t get enough. So we make plenty and the bounty lasts for days. However, our habit of stopping to name what we’re thankful for, and to offer thanks together, does not. Like most people, we enjoy the day then move on and start thinking about Christmas.
I think it’s awesome that Americans, like Canadians and others around the world, have a national holiday dedicated to gratitude. It’s a wonderful reminder to count and thank God for our blessings. But it’s not a good excuse to relegate thankfulness to one day a year.
Gratitude is one virtue I’m trying to cultivate in my own life, and I encourage you to consider how you can incorporate it more fully into yours. To that end, here are five good reasons to be thankful all year–not just in November.
Thankfulness is good for our mental health. Thankfulness changes the way our brains function. It brings discipline to our thoughts, and it redirects our attention to thought patterns that are good for us rather than destructive. It decreases depression, envy, frustration, regret, and other negative emotions that work against us. It can literally change our minds.
Being thankful helps us take our eyes off ourselves. Gratitude makes us less selfish and self-centered. Focusing on our blessings is a great way to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, comparing our lives unfavorably with the people around us, and striving after what we think will make us feel better. It changes our perspective and helps us see that world does not revolve around us. And as we feel grateful for what we have, we are more likely to want to share with others rather than grasp after more for ourselves.
Gratitude is good for our relationships. Most people would agree it’s pleasant to be around a grateful person. But gratitude also increases our empathy for others and makes us less aggressive and vengeful. And because it helps us take our eyes off ourselves (see above), gratitude helps us pour effort and energy into knowing and caring for others.
Gratefulness is an antidote to greed. When we focus on what we have, and express gratitude for it, we stop thinking about what we want. Gratitude increases our sense of well-being, which makes us more content. When we feel content, we are less likely to engage in consumerism and the slavish chase for more. How fitting (and ironic) that we focus on giving thanks just hours before the annual moment when our societal practice of consumerism reaches its full height.
Thankfulness brings us closer to God. The apostle Paul instructed Christians to “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). This is part of what God has called us to, and it helps us connect with our Creator. Thanking God reminds us of his goodness to us; it increases our faith as it helps us trust that he will care for us in the future. It is a form of worship, and worship is a wonderful way to restore our perspective on who we are, who God is, and how much we owe him. God draws us close when we honor him.
I hope you’ll remember these benefits of thankfulness (and there are many more!) this Thanksgiving Day and beyond. May God bless you as you count the ways he has already done so.
© 2016 Amy Simpson.