It's been a stressful year for everyone. I don't need to tell you why. You already know what I'm talking about. With Thanksgiving coming up, you and your family are probably stressing out on a unique level about what you're going to be doing for the holidays this year. Are we going to see out-of-state family? If so, are we going to fly or drive? Are we going to socially distance when we get there? What if grandpa doesn't keep his distance? Regardless of your plans, Thanksgiving will still happen and you all will still sit around some sort of table with various family members. A tradition with my family is we share what we're thankful for in the past year. I've been thinking about what I want to say. There are many things people are typically thankful for, but I would like to offer a step further in this difficult year. What else can we be thankful for?
People are unhappy
Studies show people have never been more unhappy and more lonely, corresponding with the rise of technology, social media, and secularism. Forget about the pandemic for a moment. The epidemic of loneliness and unhappiness are greater indicators of an unhealthy long-term life than smoking or obesity.
There are a few antidotes to this: having a good community, exercising, and spending your money on others. Another antidote to modern unhappiness is practicing being grateful. You've probably heard this by now. It's become a movement of sorts. Gratitude Journals have become pretty popular. There's bound to be a gratitude chapter in most self-help books that have been published in the past 10 years.
When people write in their gratitude journals, I think they tend to write about three main things: material things, their family, and their job. When we think about what we're thankful for, sometimes we think about what we have that others don't. "God, thank you for a warm bed and the roof over my head, a loving family, and a secure job." I think that's a good starting point. Indeed, we should be thankful for these things! I think we could be taking it a step further though. Perhaps things that are more consistent. Here are five things you should remember to be thankful for this year.
1. The Small things
Small things are small. Obviously. But there are many more small things than large things so they add up faster. There are many more average days than beautiful days. Many more ordinary dinners than fancy. Many more trips to the grocery store than to Fiji. Many more squirrels than elephants (at least in the U.S.). What if we figured out ways to delight in these small, ordinary things? Sounds lame at first, but trust me. Life starts to become extraordinary when you enjoy the ordinary.
2. God's Creation
Like I said, delight in squirrels and rainy days. There's beauty in both! But don't stop there. Delight in landscapes, the incredible size of the universe compared to atoms, the rules that God made, revealed by physics and chemistry. I was so delighted during my Intro to Physics class, I usually would quietly say "Wow, that's amazing!" and my peers would awkwardly chuckle or roll their eyes. Delight in all of these things because they're all an expression of God. I look at squirrels and birds and think/pray, "Wow. Of all the things God could have made, He decided to make that!"
Delight in people too. They're God's creation. Delight in an outgoing personality and a quiet temperament. Thank God for the different strengths, gifts, and talents you see in others and in yourself (a good antidote to jealousy, comparing, and envy). Delight in a handsome man or beautiful woman (without lusting, of course). Delight in someone for the sake of that person just being that person! As I said before, all are an expression of God. "Wow God. This person is amazing in their own way and I see it. Thank you for making this person."
3. Good Health
This one I can personally relate to. I am a healthy individual. Aside from bad astigmatism, I don't have any preexisting conditions, I love being active, and I think vegetables are delicious. However, one spring, I got sick and I was in bed for two weeks straight because it was too painful to move. Let that sink in. Two weeks straight of being unable to do anything because of pain! Finally, I went to the hospital and got surgery to cure my pain. I woke up and I was pain free! Suffice it to say, I never looked at good health the same way again.
There are many people out there who don't have good health. Who live in pain. Who can't see or hear. Who are missing an arm, leg, or all four limbs. Who live with cancer. I think most of use who don't have to deal with these issues take good health for granted because we don't have to think about it like others do. Let this be the day you are grateful for your health more often. Be grateful you have the freedom to take yourself on a walk around your neighborhood and see the changing fall leaves and hear birds singing.
I know I kind of downplayed being thankful for family earlier, but I have a different perspective. As I mentioned at the beginning, people are lonely. More and more families are broken and aren't a place people feel supported. Good friends are hard to come by if you don't know where to look, and I mean good friends. The ones who will inspire you to be holy and who admire you as you strive for holiness. We're hard-wired for relationships because back in caveman times, if you were alone, you died! I've heard about another study of people living longer if they had solid, consistent communities. So if you've got beautiful relationships with your family members and your friends, praise God for them!
5. The Father's love for us
If it's difficult to be thankful for any of the above things, be thankful for God's love for you. As sinners, God doesn't owe us anything, yet as His children, He gives us everything. He gives us all of the things I mentioned above! He chooses to forgive the ugliest sins we commit and still chooses us as His beloved. Something to take to prayer.
I hope I've given you more ideas of what you'll say when you're going around the table at Thanksgiving. Not just that, but during the rest of the year. I hope it helps you to live a more joyful life. Perhaps if this isn't a tradition in your family, you can start it this year. Maybe doing so will be a witness to your joy in the Lord and all the blessings He's given you. Don't forget, joy is attractive. It's something people are longing for. Show others that you've found true, eternal joy in God by eagerly giving Him praise and inviting others to do the same!
Can you think of any more unique things to be thankful for? Let me know in the comments!
P.S. I sometimes find myself grateful for masks because it hides my dopey smile whenever I think about something that makes me happy. My wonderful friends, a really neat thing I created, a silly joke I told... I wish for moments like that for you too.