Let’s Talk Turkey
As we mark the countdown to the Thanksgiving weekend, social media is bursting with posts, tweets, and memes that remind us of all we have to be grateful for in this beautiful country. But in order to have gratitude really sink in and transform us from the inside out, we have to see it as more than just a digital warm fuzzy or a trendy wall plaque.
The Meaning of Gratitude
Gratitude can mean different things in different contexts: it can be an emotion that swells our heart at an unexpected gift, an attitude or lens through which we view the world, a habit that we practice regularly, a personality trait, a virtue, or even a coping mechanism.
The opposite of gratitude is obviously ingratitude, but a quick search of antonyms yields a list of dozens of related opposites, such as condemnation, disloyalty, callousness, inconsiderateness, rudeness, boorishness and thoughtlessness. Doesn’t sound like a very happy picture, does it?
An Attitude of Gratitude
PositivePsychology.com lists numerous health benefits of practicing gratitude, such as more positive mood, increased happiness and life satisfaction, protection against burnout, improved sleep and overall physical health, and a tendency to be less materialistic. It can counter suicidal thoughts and even help you become more patient, humble and wise!
But scientifically speaking, the world is just catching up with what our Church has taught for over 2,000 years. Did you know that the word Eucharist means thanksgiving? The Bible tells us to “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”(1 Thess 5:18). When we live our lives in gratitude between one Holy Mass and the next, we open our hearts to Jesus and the countless blessings that God is pouring out on us in Christ. Gratitude leads to health, happiness, and the good life, both here and in the hereafter.
But I Don’t FEEL Grateful!
Just because we don’t feel grateful doesn’t mean we can’t give thanks. Our actions can influence our thoughts and emotions just as much as our feelings can affect how we think and behave. In a way, cultivating an attitude of gratitude is about faking it til you make it. The more you thank God and others, the more grateful you will feel and the easier it will become to see the blessings in every moment of your day.
Make it a Habit
In his article, 6 Habits of Highly Grateful People, Jeremy Adam Smith from the Greater Good Science Center suggests these habits, which sound surprisingly – or not surprisingly – Catholic:
- Think about death and loss…remember the Four Last Things?
- Abstain for a time from things you take for granted…hmmm…does Lent come to mind?
- Express gratitude through rituals…we’re back to the liturgy again!
- Consider everything a gift…did you know that grace means the gift of God’s life?
Taking Gratitude to the Next Level
- Do you suffer from scruples? During your examination of conscience, try putting the baseball bat away and thanking God for His grace and help even in those times when you turned away from Him. For example, “Thank you, God, for forgiving me for gossiping today…Thank you for all the times you help me to be patient.” Or when past sins – long-forgiven – come to mind, remind yourself, “And yet You love me, Lord…thank you!”
- Having trouble falling asleep? Count your blessings rather than sheep. Research shows that having grateful thoughts instead of reciting a litany of worries leads to a more restful sleep.
- What’s your Gratitude Quotient? Take the gratitude quiz at the Greater Good Science Center to find out your GQ and pick up some helpful hints about how you can become more thankful every day.
- Keep a gratitude journal or download a gratitude app to help you give thanks in all things. Challenge yourself to find the blessings even in difficult or painful life events.
Giving Thanks in All Circumstances
So, when the turkey’s ready and the table’s set this Thanksgiving holiday, just remember that thankfulness is about so much more than a simple prayer before you dig in. Perhaps G.K. Chesterton said it best when he challenged,
“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Thanks for stopping by.