Thanksgiving gratitude: An emotion or a choice?

This year, does it strike you that gratitude at Thanksgiving will be in short supply? Many are questioning what they have to be grateful for.

So many grieving people are entering the holiday season bereft of a spouse, parent, child, or other loved one. The cruelty of COVID has taken so many lives. The even crueler mockery our betters call the COVID “vaccines” has left hundreds of thousands more injured.

Inflation is rampant. Those on the lowest end of the economic spectrum are affected the worst by rising gas and food prices, supply chain shortages and rent increases. Untold numbers of people have lost their homes and businesses over the last two years, catapulting them from the middle class into poverty.

Endless parents have discovered, to their horror, that their children’s public school education is a joke; but if they object, they are branded domestic terrorists. As of this writing, the city of Kenosha is bracing for violent rioting by leftist anarchists over the verdict finding Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty. Crime is skyrocketing. Prices are skyrocketing. Our standard of living is plummeting. The very turkey normally spotlighted on our Thanksgiving table may not be available. Dear Lord, what is there to be grateful for?

That’s what I mean about gratitude at Thanksgiving somehow being in short supply this year. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the realities of hardships, conflict, death, violence.

And it’s for this reason we need Thanksgiving more than ever.

We don’t need it for the feast. We don’t even need it for the family gathering. We need it for our own peace of mind.

“[W]hen life is going well, gratitude allows us to celebrate and magnify the goodness,” notes Dr. Robert Emmons. “But what about when life goes badly? In the midst of the economic maelstrom that has gripped our country, I have often been asked if people can – or even should – feel grateful under such dire circumstances.”

Dr. Emmons’ response to this book of Job-like subject is how essential gratitude truly is. He says “it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.”

He distinguishes between feeling grateful (an emotion) and being grateful (a choice).

Another academic echoes this sentiment. Dr. Ryan Fehr, an associate professor of management and Michael G. Foster Endowed Fellow at the UW Foster School of Business, says: “During a difficult time, gratitude is more important than ever. Research shows that gratitude can help us cope with traumatic events, regulate our negative emotions, and improve our well-being. More importantly, gratitude can have a positive effect on our friends and family, too. It’s a small way to have a meaningful impact.”

Well those are certainly nice words, aren’t they? But how do you put them into effect? If you’re grieving over a loss or find yourself homeless after an eviction, is Thanksgiving meaningless? How is it possible to be grateful for affliction?

Of the recommended steps for expressing gratitude (writing things down, telling others you appreciate them, yadda yadda), I’m inclined toward action. Paying things forward, volunteering, helping others – that seems to be the best way to fill a void and get the focus off one’s losses, at least for a while.

Again, these suggestions seem like clichés – except there appears to be a scientific basis behind them. “Consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall,” observes Dr. Emmon.

But what most of these academic experts either can’t or won’t admit is the greatest reason to be grateful – faith.

The world is an enormous study in contrasts. We have amazing good and we have loathsome bad. We have magnificent beauty and unimaginable horror. We have natural disasters that topple nations, and gentle rains that bring new growth. We have acts of terrorism that bring countries to the brink of war, and brave men and women willing to give their lives to fight against such evil.

In the midst of the heartbreak and sorrows and misfortunes we all experience and suffer, we also recognize moments of supreme joy and happiness, of beauty beyond description and peace that passeth all understanding. God gives us moments of tranquility in a world of strife so that we may pause and recognize our blessings.

Those of us blessed with faith in God know the source of this comfort and peace. As our older daughter once observed on a day when shafts of sunlight pierced the clouds and lit up the newly-green fields of spring, “How can anyone see this and not believe in God?” I often wonder where atheists turn for comfort when they are bereaved.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is the classic example of how something good can come out of something seemingly bad. The technique of using trumped-up charges in order to get rid of a troublesome wandering preacher with a scary-big following must have seemed like a tidy solution for the politicians of Jesus’ day. Who would have guessed they were actually fulfilling prophecy? And who could have imagined that the biggest miracle on the planet would shortly ensue?

The horror that Jesus’ followers and family must have felt as they watched Him die on that cross can’t be measured. How much more immeasurable, then, was their joy in learning He rose again? And that they now had eternal life because of His sacrifice? Incredible.

The sun shines and the rain falls on both the good and the evil. While we can’t choose the destiny of others, we have been given the great blessing of choice for ourselves. The gift has been given. It’s up to us to accept it or not.

It is my hope, dear readers, that whatever hardship, tragedy, or loss you have faced in the past year, you can still capture the gratitude that will help you through the next.

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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