I RARELY PREACH these days—at least in front of congregations—but I still recall how hard it was, every Thanksgiving week, to come up with something new to say about gratitude.
The messages we hear and see this week will be fairly consistent: Buy more food and stuff. But also: Thanks be to God. Thanks for the life we enjoy.
Expressing gratitude is indeed good. Practice more of it in your life, and life will be sweeter. Each year, I would express such sentiments and try to add some new angle to the message.
The problem: At this time of year, gratitude becomes a cliche. My inner eight-year-old remembers how much I hated reciting everything I was grateful for at school and then again at the Thanksgiving dinner table. An eight-year-old gets tired of being grateful over and over again for his cat, his baseball cards and his family. It can get boring and eventually he starts making things up. At least this eight-year-old did.
One of our challenges this time of year is to remember to cultivate an attitude of gratitude—and not an attitude of taking it for granted. As the holidays near, and we’re bombarded with requests for donations and holiday shopping commercials, it’s easy to forget that gratitude isn’t just a cliche to help sell things.
Gratitude is one of the most important spiritual traits, and we would be wise to nurture and practice it. Research has shown that, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” A giving of thanks shouldn’t happen just on the second Monday of October or the fourth Thursday of November, depending on whether you live in Canada or the U.S. It’s a story and a way of life for every day of the year.
What’s gratitude have to do with investing and personal finances? Plenty. The happiest people I’ve met, as well as the most spiritually and emotionally healthy, are those who are grateful for what they have. While they may strive for more, they know that what they have is enough. Sometimes, these folks have ample material wealth, but sometimes they don’t. An attitude of gratitude comes not from how much we have, but from how we look at life.
Over the years, I’ve recommended and practiced many ways to deepen a sense of gratitude. Writing daily gratitude lists. Waking up early and watching a sunrise. Sending a “thank you” letter every day. Making a list of all the things and experiences I’ve enjoyed in my life that I didn’t initiate, but instead which others created or gave to me. Such practices can help us avoid taking life for granted.
But one practice is better than all these.
If you turn over the gratitude coin, you’ll find another “g” word. Whenever I’m conscious of being grateful, I’m filled with the need and desire to share that gratitude with someone else. The practice of doing that is called generosity.
It’s no accident that two of my favorite preaching holidays of the year were Thanksgiving and annual pledge drive Sunday. Gratitude invites—and perhaps demands—that we give some of that gratitude away, whether it’s by sharing our time, our money, our excitement or our prized possessions. Like love, the more we give, the more we keep.
Financial planning can lead to many fine things. But if the results don’t include a growing sense of gratitude and generosity, I want no part of it. Our financial resources may be limited, but gratitude and generosity are not. I can have and practice more of both, and so can you. Share a sunrise, share a meal, share a blessing, share a financial gift this week. And next week, too. Happy Thanksgiving—not just today, but every day of the year.
Don Southworth is a semi-retired minister, consultant and tax preparer living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He recently completed his Certified Financial Planner education. Don is passionate about the intersection between spirituality and money, and he encourages people to follow their callings wherever they lead. Follow Don on Twitter @Calltrepreneur and check out his earlier articles.