Thanksgiving, gratitude, & Christmas starts on October 28th…

A few days before Halloween, I walked into Costco to pick up some supplies for dinner. I made it 30 feet into the store & was confronted by a huge snowman, who just happened to be fronting a mega-sized Christmas display. Christmas display.

Christmas carols emanated from somewhere in the pile of holiday cheer. Anchoring the display were several large ticket items, each promising to be the core of many present-wish lists. I stood staring for a good minute, soaking in the spectacle. Someone stopped next to me & commented, “Awesome, huh?! I can’t wait for Black Friday!” Me: “Help me Jesus.”

This reminded me that our culture is a consuming, self-indulgent culture – it’s in the DNA of our human-sinful nature. 1John 2:15 speaks of it when John writes: “Don’t love the world, or the things of the world…for all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh, & the desires of the eyes, & the pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away, along with its desires…”

To me, John is warning us against 3 HUGE temptations: the desires of the flesh (self-indulgence,) the desires of the eyes (a never-fulfilled longing for MORE stuff) & the pride of life (selfish, me-focused ambition.) These things each have the ability to shipwreck us & our faith by pulling our focus (& priority) onto things that are temporary at the expense of the eternal. What are some ways that we can battle this when it is so much a part of our culture it SEEMS normal that stores would open at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day?

One way is by asking the Holy Spirit to sensitize us to values & priorities that are eternal (Think Matthew 6:19-24,) Another is asking Him to reveal areas of our hearts where our priorities have gotten out of whack. If/when we discover something is off, we repent & make a shift in our thoughts/directions/actions.

Ultimately, in this season of thanksgiving, cultivating contentedness & gratitude will help establish priorities centering on the things that really matter.

The pursuit of happiness & the gratitude experiment…

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence states a belief that the Creator has given us certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness. Even if we haven’t been in a civics or government class in a while, we know, as Americans, these things are our birthright.

It’s interesting to me that Jefferson (& his editors) included the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” – & it makes me ask the questions, “What would it take for us to BE happy?” And “If I’m pursuing happiness, what does it look like when I CATCH it?”

Think about it: what would make you happy… for a long time? Think big. Winning the lottery? Being able to live in a tropical paradise? Your favorite sports team winning the Super Bowl/World Series/etc…?

It seems like that would do the trick – surprisingly, however, statistics say something different. For example, a study of lottery winners showed an initial spike in happiness immediately following their winning the big bucks. However, within 9-12 months of the win, lottery winners reported that they felt no more “happy” than they had before they won all the money.

People adapt to their life circumstances – & in order to “be happy” we need to do something/try something new. Which works for a while – until we adapt again. It’s like being on a “pursuit of happiness treadmill,” always chasing, but never quite attaining it permanently. (The scientific name for this phenomena is “the hedonic treadmill.” Read about it HERE.)

So what can a person do to increase their longer-lasting feelings of happiness? Again statistics reveal that people who regularly express gratitude & thankfulness to those in their lives have a significantly higher sense of happiness. I think that the reason for this is expressing gratitude involves being mindful of our life circumstances, & actively looking for the areas where we have been blessed, loved, & cared for. Check out this brief VIDEO for some really great info on the ‘gratitude/happiness’ corollation’

Over the next couple of weeks at Hillside, we’ll be in a series called, “The Gratitude Experiment.” I’d like to encourage you to take time to write some lists of the people, places, & things that you are thankful for. Then, write a brief note to/call the people in your life that you’re thankful for & blessed by & share that with them.