Choosing Gratitude – How Giving Thanks For The Little Things Makes All The Difference
Why do people always feel like life has made things harder for them than it has for other people?
A paper was published at Cornell, “The Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry” by Tom Gilovich and Shai Davidai, trying to get a handle on how or why it’s so easy for people to feel like everyone else has it easier. Feeling put upon and being resentful curdles our well-being, it argues, and we would all benefit from feeling some more gratitude…But why is this so hard?
Sometimes it can be so easy to reflect on all that we’re up against rather than all that brought us here.
Because You Can’t Ignore a Windburnt Face
The paper presented an idea familiar to any of us that run or cycle: when you run into the wind, it’s all you notice. It slows your speed and, as you lean in to try to fight it, every second you count down until the course changes and the wind gets at your back.
When it does, though, your wind-burned face is only grateful for about a minute. Then, very quickly, you no longer notice it helping push you along.
The same running and cycling premise is true of life. The headwinds going against us are far easier to notice than the tailwinds pushing us along.
Overweighting the Tailwinds
It’s like how sports fans always complain their schedule is the hardest in the conference. Or how Democrats and Republicans think the electoral college helps or hurts their side. Or feeling like your siblings always had it easier than you. We all feel like we walk uphill both ways to school.
Growing up, I was always jealous of the taller girls on the team who were the first to get the rebound or the header into the goal. “Of course they get more goals than me,” I thought, “If I were taller, I’d be the lead scorer too.”
Most of us feel we face more headwinds and obstacles than everyone else. We also greatly undervalue the many tailwinds helping us, leaving us ungrateful and unhappy.
Overweighting our headwinds fosters resentment and bitterness. It robs us of having peace with where God has called us to today. How can we avoid this trap?
Giving Thanks for the Invisibles
What are you grateful for? When you ask people this question, the most common answer is my parents, my family, my loved ones, or my friends.
While these are absolutely worthy of gratitude, when we apply a sloppy stroke of thanksgiving to all of the big things in our life – family, house, health, education, country, etc. – we fail to give thanks sincerely, in all things.
The Tailwinds study introduces what they’re missing is all the Invisibles. The mere fact that we’re alive, have an opportunity to receive an education, and have freedom of speech.
“The more often we see the things around us — even the beautiful and wonderful things — the more they become invisible to us. That is why we often take for granted the beauty of this world: the flowers, the trees, the birds, the clouds — even those we love. Because we see things so often, we see them less and less.” Joseph Wirthlin
How many blessings do we miss because we are not looking?
We are able to use a knob to adjust one side of our car to the exact temperature we want, for goodness sake. We are able to use the Internet from the middle of the flippin’ sky!
Let’s remember to give thanks for all of the big and little things in our lives.
Maybe for you that looks like keeping a gratitude journal where every day or every week you write down what you have to be grateful for. Or maybe you write a letter to a person expressing gratitude for something they’ve done for you. Try one of these out and I almost guarantee you’ll be happier or more satisfied for all of the good things in your life.
Finding Thankfulness in Hardship
Some seasons of life make it harder to see the good. How do we choose to give thanks in the hard spots? Here’s a clip from a Constantly Under Construction podcast I recorded last week on how I struggled to give thanks after the accident.
Sometimes it takes time to give thanks. As I recovered, many patients in therapy had lost the ability to live independently again. They would never be able to walk again or talk without a medical device or eat unassisted. Ever. On those days when I wanted to punch a wall because of all I had lost and the struggle to back, I fought to give thanks in all I had not.
I fought to give thanks for the Invisibles — that my fiancé flew down to see me every weekend, I was slowly being approved to remove the neck brace and tubes, friends came across the country to visit me, and I knew that someday I would get back to my life as I knew it.
Maybe one secret to seeing God in the hardship is developing a way of being thankful for the moment right now. Not for what we hope to happen tomorrow, not for what happened yesterday, but giving thanks for every good and perfect gift in this moment.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
-1 Thessalonians 5:16–18
How have you appreciated the wind at your back? How have you given thanks for the Invisibles during hard times?