Last week, I had one of the most frustrating days ever. I was supposed to pick up a prescription, then do a series of errands that would take up an hour or so of my time. My prescription wasn’t ready; the office-supply place had to order my printer-ink refill, the grocery store had to give me a raincheck for the eggs that were supposed to be on sale, and I was feeling like life just shouldn’t be this difficult. Then, when I came home, I happened upon an article about a man in Mexico whose job is to locate mass graves from the early days of the drug war.
That pretty much took the wind out of my sails. Here I was, complaining about not being able to get all the “stuff” I wanted; all this man wanted was to find his son’s body. I immediately felt a rush of shame at my own shallowness… and a rush of gratitude that no child of mine had been murdered and was buried in an unknown location.
And that led me, naturally, into Thanksgiving. A day we set aside to remember some dubious historical events and to give thanks for what we have—the two combining into a huge feast with family and friends. And that’s nice. It’s nice to have a time to gather. It’s nice to have at least one day out of the year when we’re reminded to be thankful for what we have.
Thanking more thoughtfully
I’m not here to deconstruct Thanksgiving, but I do think we could make it a little more—thoughtful.
And that led me to wonder what the difference is, really, between thankfulness and gratitude. Here’s what I found when I looked at the Oxford Dictionary:
- "Thankful" is defined as "pleased and relieved." Both of those things are great feelings. I can't think of anyone who doesn't want to feel pleased and relieved. But that's just it; they're feelings.
- "Grateful" is defined as "showing an appreciation of kindness." This is where the difference lies; being thankful is a feeling. Being grateful is an action.
Many people I know are taking up the practice of writing in something called a “gratitude journal,” enumerating the things they’re grateful for. I think this is an excellent exercise. Had I thought about writing in a gratitude journal last week when I was having such a frustrating day, I could have turned all my frustrations around. My prescription was late? “I have good medical care, I have health insurance, my problem can be treated through this prescription.” I had to order my ink cartridge? “I am wealthy enough to afford a computer and a printer, and I have a job I love that requires me to use them.” What a difference!
Gratitude is something we feel
But I’d also like to suggest that we can all move from thanksgiving into gratitude in some more concrete ways as well. Gratitude is something we live, not something we feel. If we remember, every day, how privileged we are, it becomes easier to share that privilege with others, to want to bless the other people in our lives.
How? Here are some simple suggestions; and I’d love it if you’d add some more to this list!
- Pay for a stranger’s coffee
- Tell your family how much you love them, every day
- Buy an extra can or packet of food at the grocery store and drop it in the food-bank donation receptacle as you leave
- Walk your friend or neighbor’s dog for them
- Let someone go ahead of you when you’re waiting in line
- Give your server an extra-big tip; compliment them to the manager
- Hold doors for others, every day
- Give up your seat for someone (they don’t have to be elderly!)
- Give a colleague a compliment for their excellence at a work task
- Buy a few scratch tickets and give them away—to the teller at your bank, to your delivery person, to anyone who gives you services, day in and day out
- Bring a basket of fruit or a bouquet of flowers to your local police and fire stations; no one ever thanks them, but they may one day save your life
- Buy an inspirational book and leave it in a public place for someone else to enjoy
I know I’m missing out on a lot of possibilities, but you get the general idea. I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and I hope and pray that yours will be filled with peace, joy, and some very fine desserts! But if we let gratitude permeate every day of our lives, then we’ll truly be living the way God calls us to live.
And when you do these things, remember—others will notice. They may even ask you why. And that is the moment you can share the greatest gratitude of all: your faith. St. Francis of Assisi said, “You may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads.” We are Christians. We are different from those around us. We live differently, and that should show in how we are perceived. What great secret do you possess, that makes you so glad and grateful? What are you doing that they aren’t?
When you do good, when your life exudes gratitude, when you share that thankfulness with others, then they will see and—just perhaps—believe.
In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving from me and everyone here at Pauline Books & Media!
Jeannette de Beauvoir
And you will say on that day: give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name; Among the nations make known his deeds, proclaim how exalted is his name. Sing praise to the LORD for he has done glorious things; let this be known throughout all the earth. Shout with exultation, City of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel! (Isaiah 100)