I learned how to be grateful a couple of years ago. I think it may have had a lot to do with who I was spending time with. (Or NOT spending time with.) Attitudes are infectious, and I'm embarrassed how easily I was infected by so many bad ones. In retrospect I can see that ungratefulness is the result of a basic outlook on life, and I think it's impossible to be grateful while one holds that outlook. It goes like this… "Life is so unfair to me. I never get what I deserve. People always treat me unfairly. No one is looking out for me."
Having been in a house that was saturated with those thoughts, and having come out of it into a better attitude, I can see some big advantages to being thankful. Here are the ones I have recognized.
- The single most important part of being thankful is that is points to God. Once one gives thanks, the question must be asked: to whom are we giving our thanks?
- It keeps us humble. If we are thankful for what we have, that means we are admitting that what we have comes from outside of our own merit. An ungrateful person will buy a new car and say "I earned this car. I deserve it!" A grateful person will recognize that they are blessed to have a job and the ability to purchase and drive a car. Once we get it out of our head that life owes us something we can recognize all the gifts that surround us, and realize that we don't deserve any of it.
- It keeps us positive. I'm sure you've heard or read at some point about all the medical studies that say our attitude determines a lot about our health and well-being. I would say that any behavior that gets one closer to God's truth will have a positive result. If we say that everything we have is ours by right, whenever we get anything we are just settling a score. We consider good things as a zero, as though we started with negative 100 and when we get what we want we finally have reached 'acceptable' status. But a grateful heart recognizes that nothing is ours by right. So everything we get –starting with our beating heart and breathing lungs- is a gift. So it creates a positive balance in our mind.
- It helps us to be kind. When we consider our interactions with people from a thankful attitude, we will display love and kindness. Ungrateful people don't bat an eye when a waiter gives exceptional service, someone holds a door open for them, or their spouse cooks them dinner. Because after all, life is so unfair that these little niceties are just bringing them closer to a balance.
- It helps us to be generous. Getting what you don't deserve puts you in the mood to give to others whether they deserve it or not.
- It helps us to conserve. Clearly an understanding of things we have as gifts rather than rights will encourage us to use what we have wisely. To do otherwise shows ingratitude.
- It helps us deal with catastrophes. Both on a personal level and on a worldwide level as well. Modern liberal political systems, (despite their many advantages) have ingrained in us the thought that we have a certain amount of intrinsic rights. This is a wonderful thing for a government to believe and practice, but in the bigger picture, beyond a government's moral responsibility to its citizens, what rights do we really have? Look to nature for the answer to that. Look at the animal kingdom that doesn't have complex social structures to guarantee them freedoms and liberties. Nature tells us we have NO rights. Death is around every corner. The weakest of the heard get picked off first. The smallest don't get mates. The weather kills them indiscriminately. Fortunately for us God breathed His life into us humans, and thus created us like Him. So we have a responsibility to each other to keep our societies different from the way the animal kingdom works. But without that gift of spiritual life, we would be in the same boat as the alligators, bears, and dragonflies. So when a hurricane destroys a city, why do we blame God and say it's unjust that innocent people died? Does God owe us safety? Does He owe us health, happiness, or stability? Nature shows us that none of these things are ours by right. By God's grace we are alive. And by His mercy our local volcano isn't burying us in lava, the local fault line isn't ripping open swallowing us all, and tornados aren't sucking us into oblivion. And on a personal level, His grace keeps our home safe, our marriages strong, our jobs secure, our children healthy, and our limbs intact. Knowing this helps us when one or more of those things goes away. How many do we still have? When catastrophe strikes, a grateful person will be thankful for what they still have, and approach the problem as an opportunity to learn and grow from it. Giving thanks for our trouble is one of the best ways to grow spiritually and emotionally, exercising our ability to be thankful in all things.