We all have family Thanksgiving stories that fall on the scale between funny and sad and everything in between. Thanksgiving is pretty easy to mess up. Jimmy Fallon has a traditional segment on Thanksgiving fails, all of which are funny and fairly minor.
The true Thanksgiving collapse is when we celebrate the day but continue the very practices that destroy ongoing gratitude in our lives. And the lack of gratitude in our lives is harmful to our soul, not to mention our workplace.
So what keeps us from gratitude? Here’s a list of seven destroyers of thanksgiving. Check out this list and evaluate yourself. Which one empties the gratitude out of your heart? Or never lets gratitude get there in the first place?
- Narcissism—I’m starting at the top. Narcissism is the king of all thanksgiving destroyers. Self-focused people are too busy considering their own desires and goals to recognize the litany of gifts that have been given to them—by God or by others.
- Unbridled appetite—You may be thinking I thought Thanksgiving was all about unbridled appetites? Pass the gravy. I’m not talking about that kind of appetite. Grateful people are marked by contentment. Ungrateful people are the opposite. Their ambition and/or their greed makes them unable to say, “enough is enough.” And if you’re too busy looking for more, you never say thank you for what you have.
- Disregard for the small and intangible—This problem is tied to an unbridled appetite, but I want to draw it out because it’s not just about being able to say “enough.” You need to be able to rejoice in what the world skips over, like the point this Charlotte, NC, church made. If everything has to be bigger and better, we’ll never be grateful. The most obvious way this appears is when valuing “stuff” over people.
- Captured by the consumptive culture—Our culture has conditioned us to buy, consume, and discard. The average American throws out four pounds of trash daily. While that number is unsustainable, what’s truly eye-opening is that Americans make up 5% of the world’s population but we create 50% of its solid waste. Our ability to consume and discard is unlike anything in history. That consumption mentality preaches that anything I want is mine, and if I think I’m entitled to something, I’m not grateful for it.
- Separated memory—Want to destroy gratitude? Forget the past. This article calls thanksgiving a “spiritual discipline,” and says that a good memory is key to developing gratitude. When I focus on the now, I forget the past. But when I consider the past, I recall blessings God gave me—that relationship, that opportunity, that first job, that second chance—and I recall times when I didn’t have what I do now.
- Upward comparison—We tend to compare ourselves with people who have more—people in the stage of life who have slightly better cars or vacations or houses. Why not get in the habit of comparing ourselves with people who have less? Not only would that make us grateful, but it might make us more generous, as Cindy Jones-Nyland of the non-profit Heifer International writes.
- Lack of vulnerability—If you don’t appear to have needs, you have placed yourself in the role of provider/giver/helper/leader. If you’re always in that role, it’s tempting to put your trust in yourself. Or said another way: you never have to say thanks to anyone for anything.
G.K. Chesterton said, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take things with gratitude.”
It’s interesting that we have to have a whole holiday dedicated to Thanksgiving. We don’t have to have an “Asking Day.” Why? Because we don’t have to be reminded to ask for things. But we do have to be reminded to say thank you.
Someone recently asked me if most of my prayers were more about “Please help me or give me this or that” or “Thank You for whatever”. We have to be reminded to say “Thank you.”
Thanksgiving is hard to do (as Edward Gibbon said, “Revenge is profitable. Gratitude is expensive”) but it’s easy to fake, especially on the fourth Thursday of November.
Doing the hard work of building a grateful spirit pays huge dividends, though. And avoiding these thanksgiving destroyers keeps you on the right side of the gratitude orchard. You’ve got to keep tilling the soil, but you’re giving gratitude a chance to grow.