My pastor friend and I were discussing the woes of the annual “Thanksgiving Sermon”.  He told me that he didn’t want to preach a sermon that reduced gratitude to a behavior modification for Christians to implement.  “After all, it’s an emotion,” he said, “and sometimes we just don’t feel grateful.”

I agree.  However, it is much more.  Gratitude is the foundation for a joyous life.  To think that joy begets gratitude puts the proverbial cart before the horse.  Rather a joyful life is built upon an active practice of gratitude.   Gratitude, as an action, requires a slower pace that enables reflection or “taking stock”.  Gratitude forces us to be present with ourselves, mindful of the joy that has seeped in. Practicing gratitude reminds us of the best parts of being connected with other humans, nature and a Creator.

That is a different concept than gratitude as a feeling.  But gratitude can be a feeling.  Take for example my friend, who was in a car accident.  She was not hurt, but her car was totaled.  When she was interviewed by the police and saw the video, they explained how two inches to the left of the impact would have landed her in the hospital for a lengthy stay.  Tears welled up.  She was overcome with gratitude.  Most of our lives are not filled with these dramatic near miss moments.  Rather, we meander through life from one event to the next.  Do we sit around and wait for a moment of potential tragedy so we can feel grateful?  (You know the answer to that one.)

Gratitude is not only an emotion; it can be a practice, a very powerful life changing practice.  Brene Brown’s research in her book Gifts of Imperfection reveals that 100% of people that consider themselves “joyful” practice gratitude.  She tells story after story from those she interviewed who keep a gratitude journal or prayer time.  Some people gathered with friends and family for a meal and shared events of the day, highlighting grateful moments.  Whatever the practice, the story always ended the same, the event was analyzed with a positive lens and joy resulted.

Click Here for a 31/2 minutes video with Dr. Brown on Gratitude!

I always think of my grandfather’s recliner.  Being so small, I would sit and sink (and sometimes, nap).  I was surrounded by comfort and warmth.  Gratitude is like Pop’s chair.  I sit, I recall the things, people, situations I am grateful for and I am comforted and warmed. I realized that things are not as bad or mundane as they seem.  I slow down and stew in the juice of the present, seeing how God is at work in ways, otherwise, I would have missed.  I become curious as to what God is up to with me and my loved ones.  Most congregants don’t have Pop’s chair (real or internal).

This theme permeates the Old Testament.  Moses, working as God’s hand, brings the Hebrew slaves from Egypt to a new land and the message from God is clear:  remember (isn’t that what Passover is all about?).  God wanted them to remember from where they had come, what they had witnessed in the desert and to whom they belonged.  This remembering is an act of gratitude.  Unfortunately, the ancient Jewish people wanted more political control, more land and more of everything.  (Sound familiar?)

Brene Brown said it best, “We’re a nation hungry for more joy: Because we’re starving from a lack of gratitude.”  Congregants have come to church to gleam something – I suggest we offer Brene Brown’s connection between gratitude and joy.  This missing insight may set this upcoming holiday into a live changing event.