Thanksgiving is a holiday which Americans observe each year. It was first celebrated as an expression of gratitude towards God by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims after the Pilgrims’ first harvest in the New World in 1621. It has been an annual federal observance since 1863, when Abraham Lincoln issued an edict for a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise” to God to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.
Many Americans now regard the occasion as an opportunity to visit with family, eat lots of food, watch football, hang Christmas decorations, and get a head start on seasonal shopping. In the midst of such cultural precedent, it is important for American Christians to remember how to appropriately give thanks to God. Scripture tells us, “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
To be thankful, one must first be motivated correctly. Without a proper perspective concerning the benefits of gratitude, one will likely remain in an unappreciative state. While there are many reasons for giving thanks, I can think of two which are pertinent to modern times.
Giving thanks makes us happy.
Bobby McFerrin had a popular song in which he said, “Don’t worry, be happy!” While happiness is hotly desired by most people, few seem to possess it. A gratitude crisis is at the heart of this failure. Too many Americans are fixated on what they don’t have. Programmed and conditioned by movies, media, advertisements, pop-culture, and consumer-oriented society, they are stuck in a sea of discontentment. If they would simply shift their perspective toward appreciating what they do have, they would find a world of satisfaction which has previously alluded them. The words of the Johnson Oatman’s hymn really are true — “Count your many blessings, see what God has done. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
Giving thanks has a way of giving us happiness.
It reorients our thinking from the negative to the positive. When we are focused on the positive, feelings and thoughts of joy are sure to increase. Patch Adams, the physician and comedian portrayed by Robin Williams in a popular movie, once said, “At the age of 18, I made up my mind to never have another bad day in my life. I dove into a endless sea of gratitude from which I’ve never emerged.” Give thanks and you will gain happiness.
Giving thanks can impact others.
In his Harvard Business Review article entitled “The Two Most Important Words,” Robert Eckert, former CEO of Mattel toy company, shares how he rescued the business from losing almost a million dollars a day. He did it by instilling a culture of gratitude. He taught his employees the value of two simple words — “Thank You.” Systematic and spontaneous expressions of gratitude transformed his company. They can produce a similar result in your life. When you display kindness and appreciation to others, it has a way of influencing them for good and for God. Let your light shine before men and women (see Matt. 5:16). Give thanks!
Dr. Patrick Latham