No one is born with the ability to be grateful. Thankfulness isn't something that comes readily to us, and sometimes it doesn't always come at all. Rather, thanksgiving is a quality that needs to be developed. But how do you do it? How do we educate our children to be grateful, and how do we model thankfulness for ourselves? Even though it appears to be a simple question, it isn't easy to answer.
Counting our blessings is encouraged in a variety of ways. Examine all you have. Take inventory of what you've been given. There's value in that, but it doesn't automatically lead to gratitude because appreciation has nothing to do with riches. If there were such a correlation, we would be thankful if we were given some abundance and even more thankful if we were given more riches. But that's not how it works.
We live in a period of enormous prosperity, but that hasn't translated into greater gratitude. In fact, another defining feature of our generation is that we have a strong sense of entitlement. We have a lot, and we've concluded that we deserve everything we have, and possibly even more.
The apostle Paul's exhortation to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess. 5:18) is a reminder to everyone, not simply those who are going through a difficult time and have few blessings. Those same words serve as a reminder to those of us who live in a land of plenty, where blessings are frequently overlooked. We need the reminder just as much as anyone else, if not more so. When we appear to have so little and, certainly, when we appear to have so much, we should "give thanks in all situations."
We continually prompt, coax, urge, and demand that thanks be offered. Do we put our children and ourselves through all of this only to get them to be polite? Perhaps. But we do it because we know that consistently giving thanks, whether we feel like it or not, day in and day out, in season and out of season, helps cultivate a spirit of gratitude.
Because we're so used to accepting God's gifts with calloused hands, it can start slowly. So we begin by offering thanks every day and seeking opportunities to do so in every scenario, rather than simply on one day a year or when we are prompted.
C. S. Lewis observed that grateful people are emotionally healthy people. “Praise,” he said, “almost seems to be inner health made audible.” I think Lewis would agree with this pleasant addition to his observation: thanksgiving words are like inner health made audible.