Commentary: Thankful in 2020?

Being Thankful and Grateful

Given 21-Nov-20; 10 minutes

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Few families reminisce about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans sharing a meal; some pundits (terrified of the effects of COVID) are asking, "Should Americans rethink Thanksgiving?"—with other news outlets suggesting that this is a time to keep the holiday in isolation or through Zoom conferences. Several studies suggest that Americans are still thankful for family, health, and friends, with one reporting that thankfulness extends about equally to family, God, and friends. Another study reveals that people can augment gratitude (properly defined as an active response to the feeling of thankfulness) by keeping a gratitude journal, listing in it things for which one is grateful. Gratitude improves relationships in general. God's people have a special advantage when they consider the restorative value of God's Spirit. When God's people prioritize their thankfulness to God and His abundant gifts first, coupled with the reading of Psalms about the faithfulness of God and continue to rehearse these promises, their feelings of thankfulness will morph into active behaviors of gratitude.



The year 2020 is difficult.

I’m not sure that M. Scott Peck envisioned a year such as this as he penned or typed, “The Road Less Traveled,“ but I think it’s safe to say that most of us would agree that, in some form or fashion, this year has been, at the very least, difficult.

In the United States of America, we are heading into the week of Thanksgiving, which is celebrated nationwide this Thursday, November 26. Most Americans are taught about this secular holiday in school and will usually remember something about the Pilgrim’s sharing a meal with the Wampanoag Indians in 1621.

These days, most people probably view Thanksgiving day as simply another paid/unpaid day off of work, followed by what is now affectionately called, “Black Friday,” where droves of masked people will head to stores—no doubt socially distancing as they go—in order to nab the various first come, first get deals that stores offer.

Regardless of how you view it or what you think of it, Thanksgiving could be noticeably different this year from previous years as elected officials and scientists much smarter than us have indicated that we might all need to re-think travel and the number of people that gather in groups for Thanksgiving.

The CDC has recommended that people don’t travel, and stay at home to celebrate Thanksgiving with those in their household. A Google search of, “Can I celebrate Thanksgiving this year?” turned up headlines like, “Should we rethink Thanksgiving?”, “Thanksgiving guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic.” CNET offered, “How to celebrate Thanksgiving alone and actually enjoy it,” and finally, “How to host a Zoom Thanksgiving.”

I’m one of those individuals that can’t stand hearing other people chew their food, so I can’t imagine watching someone sit there on a video chat as we are sharing Thanksgiving.

And so, with COVID-19, economic and social instability, job loss, a rise in depression and anxiety disorders, and the 2020 election, I couldn’t help but ask the questions, "What are people thankful for in 2020? Are people even thankful in 2020? What in the world is there to be thankful for in 2020?" I know most of you think you already have the answers. You’re thinking:

  • People are thankful for the stash of toilet paper they have
  • Maybe it’s the 16 pack of paper towels stocked in the cabinet
  • Maybe it’s the Lysol wipes
  • Perhaps is the hand sanitizer
  • It could be that people are thankful they can travel for Thanksgiving
  • Maybe it’s that they don’t have restrictions on the number of people that can congregate at one time

In all seriousness, maybe it is, "I’m thankful for my job because unemployment is skyrocketing," or maybe it really is, "I’m thankful for my family, friends, and health."

I did a quick search and found an article by Aaron Earls titled, “What are Americans Most thankful for in 2020”, published November 17, 2020 on It summarizes a survey performed by Lifeway Research titled, “Americans Most Thankful For and To Family This Thanksgiving”.

The sample size of the survey was 1200 individuals and yielded the following results:

  • 84% were thankful for family
  • 69% were thankful for health
  • 63% were thankful for friends

And to whom did they give thanks? The question specifically was, “At Thanksgiving, to whom do you typically give thanks?"

  • 68% give thanks to family
  • 67% give thanks to God
  • 42% give thanks to friends

For a final quote in the article, “Giving someone else thanks is not a given on Thanksgiving … but four times as many people give thanks to family or God than choose to thank themselves.” (I don't quite know what that is.)

Based on the number, it seems that this sample population doesn’t have their priorities straight when it comes to what and to whom they are thankful. One might say there is a glimmer of hope in society that more people actually give thanks to God or their family than they do themselves—and, again, I don't know who gives thanks to themselves on Thanksgiving.

Why is it important, or why should people care about being thankful, especially when life seems so difficult?

Well, first, I want to pick up a quote from an article titled, "The Difference Between Gratitude and Thankfulness," published on, where the author states, "The Oxford Dictionary defines the word thankful as “pleased and relieved.” Both of those are great feelings. Everyone wants to be pleased and relieved. But that’s just it: they’re just feelings, and feelings fade.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word grateful as “showing an appreciation of kindness.” This is where the difference lies: Being thankful is a feeling and being grateful is an action."

Armed with these definitions of being thankful and being grateful, I did a quick search to see if there are any benefits to being thankful. There is quite a bit of research out there and I landed on a Harvard Medical Publishing titled, “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” I’ll paraphrase the research:

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, performed a study. They are well-known in the field of being thankful:

  • They asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.
  • One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week.
  • A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them
  • The third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative).
  • After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

Another set of research cited in the same article noted that studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships.

  • For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.
  • Managers who remember to say "thank you" to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder.

The article ends by prescribing ways that we can express thankfulness through action of gratitude, which is kind of interesting. Suggestions include:

  • Write a thank-you note
  • Thank someone mentally
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Count your blessings
  • Pray
  • Meditate

How does all of this help God’s people? Similar to the initial survey I quoted, I think all of us should consider what we are thankful for in our own lives and be thoughtful to whom we give thanks.

I would hazard a guess that, unlike the sample population, God and Christ would be at the top of both of our lists along with a laundry list of who They are and all the things They have done for us personally, and collectively which includes family, health, and all of the other things. The important part, is that God would be first on the list since all blessings extend from Him.

We should take action similar to what was prescribed in the Harvard Medical publishing. For us, being thankful is not something we should contemplate once a year; rather, it is a feeling that should motivate us to take the action of being grateful and having gratitude each and every day toward God and Christ throughout the various difficult situations that we find ourselves in.

Praying, meditating, thinking about, even writing down all the blessings that we’ve been provided will help change our perspective and outlook. Making this conscious effort will help us as we face the various trials and challenges that each and everyone of us go through.

The title for Psalm 100 in the New King James Version states, "A Song of Praise for the Lord’s Faithfulness to His People."

Psalm 100:1-5 Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with singing. Know that the LORD, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.

Yes, 2020 is difficult, and indeed all of life is difficult. Taking the time to really contemplate both who and what we are thankful for, and then taking action by being grateful and having gratitude, coupled with God’s Holy Spirit, will help shape our perspective as we face the difficulties of 2020 and beyond.