That is a pretty bold statement but hear me out. Thanksgiving is coming. Some of you look forward to it and some of you don’t. For some this is a time of joy, laughter, food, and fun. For others this is a time of family conflict, schedule crunches, stressful cleaning and preparation, and spending money you don’t have. For most of us, it is a mixed bag of items in both categories. But the real purpose for that day is to stop and give thanks. Giving thanks can change your life.
How was Thanksgiving Day set for the last Thursday of November? It was in the midst of great civil upheaval and a divisive culture in the United States that led to the death of more than one million Americans (3% of the population). The Civil War was supposed to be over quickly. The First North Carolina Regiment, aka “The Lincoln Guards,” only enlisted for six months in April 1861 believing they could put down the rebellion easily and then return home. But the war would rage for four more years. Today’s conflict is not unprecedented.
On October 3rd, 1863, two years into the bloody war, President Abraham Lincoln declared that the last Thursday in November would be the national holiday of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day was celebrated before that but it was not together. Lincoln wanted unity, national unity. Even though he had to send many young, Northern men to their death in battle after battle, Lincoln found time to be thankful.
In the beginning of his proclamation he produced a Thanksgiving list. He cited population growth even in war, prosperity of the harvest, people who obeyed the law, increased production of goods, and the mining of precious metals to support that production. After the list he concludes, “No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” He acknowledged that he didn’t produce the gifts, God did. God gave in mercy not because people were somehow great to deserve them. Case in point, they were killing each other in war and God still blessed them. Of that, Lincoln was thankful for and was noticed for his unrelenting positivity during the war.
This perspective is life changing. A 2003 study showed how gratitude improved people’s wellbeing (Counting Blessings Versus Burdens, Emmons & McCullough). A group of participants journaled how they were better than others and listed things that annoyed them. Another group journaled things for which they were thankful. The latter group “resulted in greater levels of positive affect, more sleep, better sleep quality, and greater optimism and a sense of connectedness to others.” Not only that but they also noticed that “People led to focus on their blessings were also more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another.” Thankfulness can change your life.
How often do you give thanks? You can start now. Personally, I have a lot to be thankful for. I love cheesy potatoes and green bean casserole (the dishes I’m responsible for making this year). I love how thoughtful my wife is. I love when my kids laugh. I love my church family, even when we don’t agree on everything, because we all gather together and start our services as equals. “I confess that I am by nature sinful. I also do things that are sinful. Have mercy on me.” I love that God responds to us, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I love fresh starts that flow from forgiveness. Write your own list. Start every day with one thing to be thankful for and watch it change you and bless others around you.