This world seems really harsh right now and from what we hear in the news, there is only uncertainty about a bright future. News media can be turned off/tuned out, but if you have recently lost your job; are crushed by the thought of national, state, or your personal debt; if you have Covid; lost loved ones; or any number of other challenges – feelings of thankfulness may seem harder to come by than they once were. To elicit thankfulness, we often remind each other to make a list of the things we ARE thankful for and focus on them, but sometimes saying we are thankful does not make it so. An analysis of the anatomy of “giving thanks” helps us generate the real thing.
It is an honorable deed to encourage your friends and family to BE thankful when we sit down to eat our traditional thanksgiving dinner! While nobody wants to be preached at about a responsibility to be thankful, most people appreciate the reminder. At its root, being thankful is an emotion, not a duty to be performed. Websters 1828, explains “gratitude” is an agreeable emotion of the heart initiated by a favor or benefit received from some benefactor. It is as natural as happiness generated by sunshine or birds singing. “Thanksgiving” (giving thanks), on the other hand, was defined in 1828 as an expression of gratitude…an act of will, an action spawned by gratitude. I cannot help but wonder why these nuances are now almost lost and the two terms, gratitude and thankfulness are used as merely synonyms. I suspect one reason is because emotions (gratitude, happiness, sadness, peacefulness, etc.) can all be disingenuous and we aren’t sure whether to trust their veracity, even in ourselves. We like feelings of gratitude but are reticent to trust them just because they are expressed, even if we are the ones expressing. For another thing, there is an implied “debt” to a benefactor involved, even if it may have nothing to do with the benefactor’s motives. We naturally want to do good things in return as part of the gratitude we feel. Children feeling gratitude are evilly exploited until they get “street smart” (wisdom on the nature of man), mature feelings of gratitude generate profound expressions of thanks. We also naturally resist the humbling reality we may “need” a benefactor in order to feel gratitude.
We may set out to humbly promote and grasp every inclination toward gratitude we feel in ourselves and determine to express them joyfully as a way of sharing our delight, but thinking about the “benefactor” and the “humbly” puts some damper on us! We don’t want to feel indebted to anybody (even if it is not the “givers” intent) because we want no strings attached to our autonomy. We also want to feel self-sufficient. If we avoid looking at the nuances, we avoid a deeper look at expressing gratitude. (Giving Thanks).
We must manage and control all our emotions, including gratitude. Part of the management of gratitude is to be able to answer related philosophical questions: Can you even feel gratitude if something good hasn’t been done for us? Does lack of gratitude reveal pride or callousness? Beware! You will encounter life’s most basic question: “Does God exist?” If He does, is the “Divine Providence” referenced in the Declaration something that generates gratitude? Having a national Thanksgiving ‘holy-day’ is certainly a wonderful event spotlighting godly thinking without establishing religion.
Back to the warm feelings of the traditional thanksgiving holiday. Expressing our thanks to/for other beings is the catalyst to generate more gratitude. A person who denies “Divine Providence” as referencing a benevolent God must limit expressions of gratitude to fellow human beings. Great Hymns, poetry, and music are expressions of gratitude primarily to God. I have never heard significant expressions of gratitude to an impersonal benefactor. Gratitude for life sourced from a formula (time + chance + natural selection) does not elicit the emotion of gratitude toward the formula. That would be ridiculous! Gratitude for created life sourced in the “I Am” of ancient Scripture is profound.
Choosing to “offer thanks” in any case is an honorable thing to do – in spite of the fact we may or may not feel appropriately grateful. If you deem yourself rebellious to God, you do still have valid things to be thankful for starting with your loved ones and family, but I suggest you are missing a much broader dimension. Atheist comedian Ricky Gervais promotes the opposite; “Atheists have more to live for because they’re not spending their lives anticipating what comes afterward. So they want to make the most of what they have.” For me, if what we see is what we get, it is much harder to accept covid deaths and suffering; covid masks, mandates, and over-reactions to them; shocking inflation; staggering debts; crimes; and wars. Trusting God offers a bigger picture AND promises ultimate solutions.
This was also submitted as an article to The People’s Paper.