The Humility of True Gratitude
One of the great things about being married to someone from a different country is that you increase the number of holidays you celebrate in the year. Last month we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving and this week we’re travelling to the U.S. to celebrate American Thanksgiving with my husband’s family. Living in the Middle East, we don’t get a lot of opportunities to celebrate the holidays we grew up with, especially not with our families, so this will be a special treat.
Living overseas also brings a new perspective on some of the holidays that we grew up celebrating. A lot of people from other countries don’t really understand what Thanksgiving is all about and their questions have caused me to really reflect on this.
What does it mean to me? Unlike some of the religious holidays like Christmas and Easter, or memorial holidays like Remembrance Day, Thanksgiving doesn’t have the same clear purpose. Well it does and it doesn’t, giving thanks is obviously right there in the name, but that’s about as specific as saying we’re going to celebrate happiness. We all know we like to eat turkey and pumpkin pie, and it seems to be the only time of year when stores stock cranberry sauce, but what is it all for?
Thankful / [thangk-fuhl] / adjective / feeling or expressing gratitude; appreciative
One common tradition is to start the meal by having everyone say one thing they are grateful for, and though a good exercise, do we really need to have a whole day for that? I can see the value in these exercises, it helps us maintain perspective, realize that perhaps we aren’t just entitled to everything we have. It helps us to place value on the things we have in our lives. I’m thankful for my husband, my family, my job, my health, the list goes on and on, but to be honest, these are quite easy things to be grateful for – they’re real, and yet the gratitude is so arbitrary.
The thing is, true gratitude must have a focus, it must have a source. Saying I’m thankful for my job is a nice sentiment. However, what if I instead say:
I’m grateful that my previous boss encouraged me to apply for my current position when I didn’t think I was qualified enough, even though it meant I moved out of his department and he had to hire someone else to replace me. Without him, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply and I would have missed out on all the growth I’ve experienced in the past year. I am grateful that I got to work under his leadership, even if it was only for a short time.
This second statement requires humility, it requires me admitting that he supported me, that I needed his encouragement. When gratitude is directed specifically, we admit that someone gave us something that we couldn’t get ourselves. True gratitude is humbling because it forces us to recognize that we received something instead of earning it. It also forces us to look outside ourselves.
Who are you thankful to? God? The Universe? Fate?
See it’s great to say we’re thankful for something, but when it actually comes down to it, you can only be thankful for something you’ve received from someone else. When we humble ourselves enough to recognize this and actually be grateful to other people, we increase our ability to extend grace to others—to be generous with our time, our money, and our energy.
Thanksgiving can be a nice feel-good holiday where we all look at our lives and appreciate how blessed we are. Or it can really be a time where we humble ourselves to recognize everyone who has supported us along the way, enabling us to be where we are. In can be a time where we express our thankfulness directly to those who have aided us, empowering ourselves to assist others in the same way.
This year, let’s be intentional to humble ourselves, be grateful for the generosity of others, and look for opportunities to extend grace and generosity to others.