Others-oriented gratitude: Creating reasons for THEM to be thankful

(Photo: Kıvanç Niş)

Last week, I made a Thanksgiving shift. I shifted from thinking of thankfulness in terms of how I’m blessed to thinking of thankfulness in terms of how others are blessed. Call it others-oriented gratitude.

Once I realized it, I wondered how I’d missed it for so long.

After all, I try to be all about others-orientedness. I try to feel what others might feel. I try to align my feelings with theirs. It doesn’t always happen, but I thought I’d made more progress than I had. Clearly, I wasn’t as far along as I thought.

On top of that, it struck me that others-oriented gratitude totally aligns with God’s nature. I’d missed that too:

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ ” -Matthew 25:37-40

Not only is God grateful when others are blessed, He’s also in the business of creating reasons for people to be grateful. What else do beautiful sunrises accomplish? :)

Realizing this was a big shift for me. I starting thinking that if you and I can be grateful when others are blessed, then we can (and should) also get on board with creating reasons for people to be grateful, you know, mirroring God’s nature.

That’s what I’ve been working on and what I’d like to share with you…

Step 1: Inspiring others to be thankful

When you and I reflect on things we’re thankful for, we can usually place them in one of four groups.

The first group is purely God-given: things like trees, fresh air, the ability to walk. We won’t talk much about that now because this post is all about how you can be part of the process. The next three groups, though, are groups where you and I can play a role in why someone is thankful.

Giving something amazing

  • Selling someone a car for a dollar
  • Paying someone’s tuition
  • Buying someone cruise tickets

These are all examples of ways you and I can give amazing things. These stand out for people because they’re big and usually make a big difference in people’s lives.

Doing things unexpectedly

  • Giving back a lost wallet (with all the money still in it)
  • Sharing some garden vegetables with a neighbor
  • Picking up the tab for lunch

Things in this group are both easier, because they cost less, and harder, because you can’t always plan for them.

Being someone close

  • The grandma who always sends birthday cards
  • The friend who calls right when someone needs a call
  • The dad who takes his kids to the park… and actually plays with them there

These are the hardest to engineer. They’re more about who you are than what you do. But you can still make progress by, each day, doing little things that matter, things that bring you deep into the lives of the people around you.

Really, anytime you serve others, you’re giving them a reason to be thankful. But in practice, that doesn’t always work out. These three groups I’ve mentioned are, I think, the most notable ways you and I can impress thankfulness on other people’s lives.

But all of this is really only Step 1.

Step 2: Encouraging people to bless others

Often a partial measure of our success is how well it transfers to the next generation. Because you and I, individually, can only impact so many people. The real work happens when we’re able to inspire others on the same mission.

So that’s what Step 2 is really about. How? Well, as with everything, I think there are three ways to do this (and you and I should use all three):

  • Pray: Get the Holy Spirit working, influencing lives.
  • Live: Be an example of someone who blesses others.
  • Tell: Share with people about what’s been done for you, what you’ve done, and – perhaps most importantly – what they can do to bless others.

When it comes down to it, all Christians are part of the same body. So it only makes sense that we should bless others and be overjoyed when they are blessed, for then the blessings are ours also.

And for that, you and I can be insanely thankful.

Serving Suggestions:

(1) How can you create a reason for someone to be thankful? Think of the three groups I mentioned: giving something amazing, doing something unexpectedly, and being someone close. Can you use one of those? It’s not that difficult. It’s just a matter of thinking in different terms and then setting aside your own desires for a few moments. Not hard at all, right? :)

(2) How can you encourage others to start thinking and acting this way? One way might be to acknowledge when people do things to bless others. Another way might be to create some accountability between you and a friend, keeping each other moving forward and blessing others. Again, it just takes a little thought and some personal sacrifice.

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