I live in Canada, where we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving. This time to pause and give thanks to God for his faithfulness is very important to me. If I was being honest, though, it has not always been a way of life for me. Being critical, disappointed, and even disillusioned probably describes more of the years of my life than being thankful does.
A few years ago, I started to notice a tone of conversation as our family had dinner together. When I stepped back from the discussion, the tone sounded very familiar. My family sounded like me, and it was not a good thing. As a man, you shape the culture of your family more than you realize. Your life is like a filter, and everything leaks through into the life of the rest of your family.
As a man, you shape the culture of your family more than you realize.
Being thankful throughout the year will create a very different environment in your home than being critical will. One will bring joy and peace to your home, and the other brings stress and tension. The real challenge is how you move from one type of attitude to the other.
Here are some lessons God has been teaching me in this journey:
Observe and Learn from Others
One of the ways we all grow best is by observing and learning from others who are exhibiting a character trait we want in our own life. Why do they view life the way they do?
There are three men who have had a tremendous impact in my life. One of them is Lennett Anderson – we talk about this very subject in Episode 3 of the Impactus podcast.
Another friend gave me an illustration one time. He took a blank piece of paper and put a small dot in the middle. He asked me what I saw when I looked at the paper. My answer: “A dot.” His reply to me, “That’s your problem. You see the dot instead of all the white space around the dot. We all have a choice on what we are going to focus on.”
This illustration had a profound impact on my life and started a journey of training myself to focus on all I have to be thankful for instead of focusing on my problems.
Be Anchored in Who God Is
The brutal truth I have had to face is that all of my critical attitudes are anchored in not trusting God to be enough. We become critical or disillusioned with leaders, family, friends, circumstances, finances, work, and the list goes on. At the core of our attitude in any of these moments is a tendency to be focused on the moment instead of the story. More importantly, we lose sight of the God of the story.
Wherever you have a negative attitude, you can be sure you have lost sight of who God is and what God is doing. God is all-powerful – over every circumstance in life. He is always present with you – even when you want to complain instead of being thankful. There is a story unfolding not just for your life but for the entire human race, and he has it all under his authority. In the midst of all of this, he is completely good and has promised to always take care of you.
Wherever you have a negative attitude, you can be sure you have lost sight of who God is and what God is doing.
The more you can keep discovering and reminding yourself of who God is, the more you will become a thankful person. You will realize you are a nobody compared to him, but you are a somebody because of him. His grace, mercy, and love are powerful.
Step Into Somebody Else’s World
Negative attitudes tend to be formed because we are absorbed in ourselves and what we think we deserve. Thankfulness grows when you step out of your normal life and into the world of someone else. I have been profoundly impacted by moments of serving or being around those who come from different life circumstances than my own.
On a trip to Africa, I had the opportunity to spend time with children who are living in poverty and suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome. They were the most joy-filled people I have ever met. Stepping into their world gave me pause to think about my attitude towards my own world.
Practice Makes Perfect
There are very few people I know who enjoy practicing for anything. When I coached my kids in sports, practices were the hardest thing because nobody wanted to be there. Everyone just wants to play or live their life, and very few of us want to discipline ourselves to practice developing the skills necessary.
Moving from a critical attitude to being a thankful person will require practice on your part. For me, I have had to develop a routine of finishing each day by speaking out loud the things I am thankful for from that day. Over time, I discovered this began to change my attitude throughout the day – including during times when I was with my family.
Thankfulness Changes Your Brain
Being a thankful person will change who you are, and that will influence the way your family sees life as well.
There are numerous studies that have shown how being thankful triggers dopamine in your brain. Dopamine gives your brain a natural high, and so over time, you become more naturally inclined to give thanks because it feels so good. Studies have also shown that giving thanks helps to decrease pain levels, give us better sleep, provide stress relief, and increase our overall health and energy.
Wherever you live, don’t wait for Thanksgiving to become a more thankful person. You can change your attitude, and by doing this, you can also bring greater life to your family.