2 Conditions That Could Kill Your Thanksgiving
As we approach this Thanksgiving season, we’ll look at the things of life that might make it difficult to be grateful in our work. We’ll also examine why we can give thanks, even when it doesn’t feel instinctive.
This week, we consider two conditions that seem to kill our ability to be grateful, and propose some potential antidotes.
1) The first factor (surprisingly) is affluence.
According to studies by social psychologist and UC professor Paul Piff, “As a person’s levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, of deservingness, and their ideology of self-interest increases.”
Piff’s study found that people rationalize that they deserve success due to their own abilities, even when situations are obviously rigged in their favor. Empathy was also impaired, according to studies examining wealthy drivers’ responses to pedestrians and upper-class participants’ ability to read others’ facial expressions. Unfortunately, the underlying rationale that we deserve our abundance, merely as a result of own own hard work and intelligence, breeds ingratitude.
This is not to say that hard work or even inherent ability can’t contribute to economic success. However, so do having a loving family, access to education, a stable society with the rule of law and a strong economy. In an unjust and fallen world, none of these privileges is a guarantee. Both circumstances and abilities (even intelligence) are gracious gifts that we must give thanks for.
Are the affluent doomed to callous ungratefulness? Not according to Piff, and not according to the hope held out in the Bible. As Christians, if we understand that everything we have is God’s–including the capacity to work and engage in work–we will be grateful to God.
The apostle Paul’s words serve as a reminder: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor. 4:7)
In response, God-fearing people are called not only to gratefulness, but to humility, generosity and restoration of justice. For example, Old Testament gleaning laws were based on values of: generosity toward those with less (Deu. 24:19), remembrance of difficult circumstances (Deu. 24:22a); and obedience (Deu. 24:22b).— Interestingly, some studies indicate that exposing wealthier people to people of lower economic backgrounds and encouraging them to empathize increases empathic abilities. This goes along with the Old Testament command to “remember” hard times when being generous to others (Deu. 24:22a)—The character of Boaz, a man of means in the book of Ruth, demonstrated these values when he empowered Ruth–a foreigner and a widow–to provide for her family by accessing his fields for work (Ruth 2:16).
2) The second thanksgiving-killer is envy.
If we begrudge others for what they have, it is difficult to be grateful for what we have. This is a danger during the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season, particularly if we find ourselves identifying primarily as consumers rather than servants. Marketing, advertising, entertainment and social media encourage us to aspire to possess more, to look “better”, to present ideal lives. In the workplace, we might envy another’s position, pay or even personality. Envy springs from feelings of shame and a low sense of self worth. Under envy’s influence, work and money can become about maintaining our images and addictions, rather than about loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
So how can we overcome envy? We can turn to God for renewal.
The book of James recommends submitting to God, depending on Him, and asking Him for what we need. In addition, we can thank Him not only for the material provision we’re given, but also for how wonderfully we’re created.
As the psalmist said: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psa. 139:13-14)
Both wealth and envy can kill our ability to give thanks. Whether we find ourselves affluent or envious (or both) turning to God can heal our hearts. As we experience His love and give thanks, our eyes are opened to the joy of connection with Him and others. In turn, our work can be renewed with the purpose of service.
Read more from the Theology of Work Project's commentary on the book of Ruth.
Read more from the Theology of Work Project's commentary on the book of James.
Read more from the Theology of Work Project's article Provision and Wealth.