5 Virtues and an Antidote: The Power of Thankfulness
In the past few years I have had the opportunity to visit Central America and Africa to witness first hand the hardship and desperation that people in other parts of the world endure as a part of their daily lives. This is more than seeing the aftermath of a natural disaster, like an earthquake or flood. It is an ongoing reality for millions of people in the world.
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Others who have shared this experience, have expressed that seeing such conditions changes their perspective – often calling it a life changing event. Visiting a third world country is a reminder of how richly we have been blessed to live and work in this country. While poverty and hunger exist in the United States, the magnitude and gravity of these problems are more clearly understood when visiting a nation where poverty is the norm.
This is not just an anecdotal observation. The facts are even more compelling. In his book, A Hole in Our Gospel, Richard Sterns, the CEO of World Vision, quotes the following statistics that illustrate our blessed situation as Americans:
- 2.6 billion people – 40% of the world’s population live on less than $2 a day;
- 1 billion people – 15% of the world’s people live on less than $1 a day;
- If your income is $25,000 a year, you are wealthier than 90% of the world’s population;
- If you make more than $50,000 a year, you are wealthier than 99% of the world.
In addition to these economic measurements, we are blessed to live in a place of extraordinary freedom – where our government assures us that the rule of law prevails, and where there is opportunity to succeed based on hard work and initiative. Many of the stories of extreme political corruption and brutality of dictatorships is beyond our comprehension. If relative position in the world is an inspiration for thankfulness, we should be the happiest and most thankful people on the planet. Unfortunately many of us need an occasional reminder to keep things in perspective.
It is hard to overstate the importance of thankfulness. I agree with the observation of the Roman philosopher Cicero who stated that “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.” A few of the reasons I believe this to be true include:
- Optimism - Being thankful can make a person happier and more optimistic.
- Compassion / Empathy - Thankfulness opens our minds to the needs of others. When we recognize how we have been blessed, we are more apt to notice the needs of others whose situation in life is less fortunate. The roots of empathy are nourished by a thankful heart.
- Generosity -Thankfulness is the basis for generosity. Religious guilt and fear may be powerful motivators for some people, but thankfulness has staying power when it comes to sharing resources with others in need. The motive for giving also matters. In the book of II Corinthians, the Apostle Paul tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. Thankful people give cheerfully.
- Appreciation – Being thankful includes the full appreciation of what other people mean to us – friends, family, and those in our churches and community. The free expression of this appreciation is a great source of encouragement that can lift the spirits of everyone around you.
If being optimistic, compassionate, empathetic, generous, and appreciative of others are virtues, then Cisero may be right. In addition to being the source of other virtues, thankfulness is also the antidote to many of life’s negative impulses.
- Envy fades in the presence of thankfulness. It is nearly impossible to focus on what another person has when your heart is filled with gratitude and you are fully aware of the blessings that surround you.
- Arrogance - We all know people who believe that they are entitled to preferential treatment and are insensitive to the needs of others. Those who are acutely aware of the blessings they have received rarely display the arrogance that springs from a sense of entitlement.
- The insatiable desire to acquire more, while common in our affluent society, is quenched by the satisfaction that comes from thankfulness.
In the daily grind of life’s trials, thankfulness does not always come easy. When we experience those moments, what should we do to rekindle a thankful spirit? A good first step is to recognize that every one of life’s blessings comes from God, and as human beings we are all undeserving recipients of His grace. Secondly, there is much we can learn from the example of others who demonstrate a thankful spirit, even in the most difficult circumstances.
In his book, Traveling Light, Max Lucado tells the story of a short-term missionary on the island of Tobago who learned this lesson in a most unlikely place.
In my work with Presbyterian Senior Living over the past 40+ years I have witnessed the same extraordinary spirit in the seniors we have been called to serve as they have experienced the illness and disability that sometimes accompanies advancing age. I have also been thankful for and inspired by the compassion and kindness that is exhibited daily by the nearly 3000 staff members who are my colleagues in this important ministry. They are a clear witness to the hands of God working in the world today.
My prayer for everyone reading this message is that you will experience the deep, soul satisfying joy of a thankful heart.
About Steve Proctor
As the now-retired CEO of Presbyterian Senior Living, Mr. Proctor was employed by PSL from 1971 - 2019. He is a Registered Nurse and Licensed Nursing Home Administrator with a BS degree in business administration from Elizabethtown College. He also holds a master’s degree in gerontology from the University of North Texas. Before becoming CEO, Mr. Proctor was Chief Operating Officer for 16 years. In addition, he has served as a Board member and is a Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Non-Profit Homes for the Aging (“PANPHA”). In November of 1995, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (“AAHSA”), now known as LeadingAge, recognized Mr. Proctor’s proven leadership and accomplishments by electing him to serve as Chair of its national board of directors. He served as Chair-elect in 1996 and 1997, as Chair in 1998 and 1999, and as past-Chair in 2000 and 2001. He has also served as chair of the International Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.
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