When most people hear the word “thanksgiving,” they inevitably conjure up images of turkey dinners and extended families. Thanksgiving is something Americans tend to relegate to one day a year, but it becomes a life-giving and life-changing process when we incorporate it into our daily lives.
Committing to a lifestyle of thanksgiving and joy is a beautiful and transformative process that can truly change our outlooks, emotions, perspectives and lives. As Henri Nouwen said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep on choosing it every day.”
Here are a few ways to choose joy and make gratefulness an active part of your life:
Practice Communal Thanksgiving
The church I attended as a child reserved a special part of the weekly church service for praises and prayer requests. There was something incredibly enriching and profound about this form of community celebration. It kept us accountable to appreciate God’s goodness and implore His mercy as a body instead of as isolated members.
It’s important to find meaningful ways to share the blessings and burdens of life with our communities. Maybe you and your friends will create lists of blessings and share them with each other. Maybe you’ll host weekly dinners where you share prayer requests and blessings together. Maybe you’ll create a shared scrapbook of the memories you treasure the most. No matter what you do, commit to experiencing thanksgiving in community.
Celebrate Your Loved Ones
It’s far too easy to take our family and friends for granted without letting them know how much they mean to us. So let’s commit to intentionally showing our loved ones how important they truly are.
Send a note to your parents communicating the things you most appreciate about them. Surprise your roommate with her favorite Starbucks drink. Treat a friend to dinner at their favorite restaurant. Don’t wait for a birthday or Valentine’s Day to do something special; plan an unexpected surprise for someone just because they matter to you. Often the simplest things can brighten someone’s entire day, so let’s find creative ways to show our loved ones how much we care all year long. Being close to a loved one a privilege many people around the world do not have. Don’t take it for granted.
Be Others’ Reason to Be Thankful
The holidays have a magical way of making us feel unusually generous. We’re more inclined to drop some spare change into the Salvation Army bucket or donate an extra dollar to charity. Once the feel-good cheer of Christmas has passed, however, we sometimes become stingier with our time and wallets.
Instead of limiting this spirit of giving to the holidays, let’s seek to extend it to the rest of the year, as well. We can start with something small, such as buying someone’s dinner, and then transition into something more consistent, such as volunteering weekly with a youth group or sponsoring a child through Compassion. No matter what we choose to do, let’s remember that joy is best experienced when it is shared.
Record Your Gratefulness
During my senior year of college, my roommates began writing down daily blessings on colored Post-it notes and putting the notes into individual mason jars. After beginning a joy jar of my own, I began to appreciate things I would have missed otherwise: a good conversation with a new friend, a beautiful sunset or my favorite kind of ice cream.
At the end of the year, I took my mason jar, which was filled to the brim with colorful Post-it notes, and read every recorded blessing from the past year. The notes reminded me of days when my heart was so full of thanksgiving that my words couldn’t be contained on a mere Post-it note, and days when I struggled to come up with one single thing to write down. But the decision to find joy in both the monumental and the mundane taught me the beauty of practicing thanksgiving in all seasons of life.
You might prefer to keep a joy journal, or create a collage of words that represent things you’re thankful for. Being mindful of daily blessings is a great way to choose joy, even if circumstances aren’t going the way we envisioned that they would.
Anchor Your Thankfulness to Something Besides Circumstances
Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: rejoice!” I used to think that this was Biblical hyperbole. After all, how can someone truly rejoice when life’s circumstances are not working in their favor? Surely Paul is taking literary license here, promoting a feel-good brand of Christianity that can’t be lived out in a fallen world.
The reality, however, is that the Christian concept of thanksgiving is a way of life rather than a set of circumstances or a time of year. The Psalms provide a beautiful analogy of an honest individual who both grapples with the world’s imperfection and celebrates God’s goodness in the midst of it. The practice of thanksgiving reorients our hearts back to the God who is good, even when life’s circumstances are not.
A lifestyle of thanksgiving reminds us that our joy is rooted in God, not in the temporal pleasures of this world or our ever-shifting emotions. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast … Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
With Thanksgiving upon us, it’s natural to focus on the topic of gratitude. But instead of reserving thanksgiving for one day a year, let’s commit to integrating it into our daily lives. Ann Voskamp wrote, “When I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.” So let’s seek to count our blessings daily, in order to become more mindful of God’s presence in our lives. Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving once a year, let’s make it a way of life.