Sometime around the first century BC, Cicero the Roman Consul is credited with saying, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Nearly five centuries later, Saint Ambrose would add, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” As old as these quotes are, the art of thanksgiving is still much older. We see the practice all the way back in the very first book of the Bible.
A quick scan of scripture will quickly reveal the importance of thanksgiving to God, but like almost everything, what is important to Him is also very beneficial to us. Studies have shown that grateful people feel better about life, are more energetic, more successful, healthier, more generous, better thinkers, have better relationships and much more.
Most of us intuitively or experientially know that being thankful makes us better people, so why is it sometimes so difficult to put on an attitude of gratitude? If we listen closely, we will probably hear ourselves saying things to ourselves and others that is counter-productive to a heart of thanksgiving. Over the next two blogs, I will unveil seven blockers that turn what should be a thankful heart into a grumbling one.
Spending our early years having our every need met by well-meaning and loving parents, grandparents and others can – if we are not careful – create in us a habit of receiving without being thankful. It can foster in us an attitude of “I deserve,” without an appreciation for the sacrifice of those that provide for us. Entitlement is the number one enemy of happiness and also makes being around us miserable for others. When a baby cries for his bottle it’s one thing, but when the baby is thirty, it’s quite another.
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. – Philippians 4:11
2. Wrong Focus
When we take our eyes off all the many wonderful things God has blessed us with, it is easy to get our focus on what others have and we don’t. Studies show that people actually become depressed after peering into the lives of their friends on Facebook. It is easy to see what is lacking in our lives when we see someone else enjoying it. This was the very thing that caused Satan to lose his place in Heaven. Even though he was one of the most powerful beings in the entire universe, he began to focus on what he didn’t have instead of what he did. He got the focus of his desires. Ultimately he was allowed to reign supreme. Unfortunately for him, it was in Hell, not in Heaven.
I have learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances. – Martha Washington
When we forget to count our blessings and remember what God has done for us, we can easily begin to think that we are not blessed. This begins to take us in a downward spiral that activates wrong focus and a sense that we are not getting everything we are entitled to. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, who has studied happiness for years, says that we need three positive emotions to cancel out one negative one. This illustrates the importance of activating our memory and counting our blessings before the negative ones take us down the wrong path.
Reflect on your present blessing – of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. – Charles Dickens
Over the next few days, take a little time to listen objectively to the things you say to yourself and to others. Note anything that seems to point to entitlement, wrong focus or blessing amnesia. Counteract those words with new ones that reflect sincere appreciation for all that others have done for you, what you have and all the blessings of your life. If you will be faithful to the process, you will find that your whole life gets better.
Next time we will cover four blockers that keep us from living the grateful and productive lives that God intended for us.