I want a well-prepared heart for thanksgiving this year, maximizing the benefit for me and my family. So I sat down to think it through and came up with four questions I needed to answer for myself. Here they are, along with the meditations that emerged.

Why is giving thanks a big deal?

Thanksgiving is an acknowledgement that we are not the source of our own blessing. To thank someone is to renounce my autonomy and self-sufficiency. By giving thanks, I confess that someone gave me something of value and that they didn’t have to. The thankful man is someone who has realized his actual position in the universe and willingly accepted it (Rom 1:21).

So why aren’t we thankful?

One of the odd aspects of our humanity is that we invariably define our state relative to our surroundings rather than to the basic realities of what we have. The only Zambian family in the village with a tin roof feels wealthy; the American that can’t upgrade his iPhone 4S until he gets his tax return feels poor. But that’s where consciously thinking or even making a list has significant benefits. As I write this, I’m sitting in a clean house with a fan blowing on me, listening to classical music and drinking tea. I take every one of those things for granted every day. But I shouldn’t.

What if you tried for just 30 minutes today to be conscious of the myriad little pleasures you enjoy as part of your daily routine, offering up praise to God for each one?

Am I shallow if the first things that come to mind aren’t spiritual?

Ever had this happen to you?

Group leader: “Okay, let’s all share our blessings this year.”

First guy: “I’m thankful for my new iPad Air 2. It’s just been so helpful for work and relaxing.”

Second guy: “I’m thankful that I’m going to heaven.”

Mr. iPad Air 2 now feels like a total loser. But it’s okay to be thankful for physical blessings—actually it’s totally healthy. We are, after all, physical creatures. The psalms often praise God for material things (Psa 147:12–20) and Ecclesiastes calls on us to enjoy them (Eccl 9:7–10). Certainly, it’s materialistic to rejoice in physical things to the neglect of the spiritual. But it’s most accurate to think of thanksgiving as gratitude for both. If I’m truly thankful for blessings in the next life, isn’t thanksgiving for the physical just all the better? Spiritual blessings secure, interpret and ground our enjoying of physical blessings now. The most authentic gratitude for either, is in fact gratitude for both.

So how can I increase my gratitude?

If you’re human, you need help to become more grateful. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  1. Take inventory of what you’ve been given. This could take lots of forms and depends a lot on you. So I’ll tell you what I’m doing. I set alarms on my phone for 6 random times Thursday afternoon. Every time my alarm goes off, I’ll look at what I’m doing or enjoying at that moment, stop for 3-5 minutes and thank God for it. Be creative. Find a way to remember the things you take for granted.
  2. Talk to the One who gave it to you. I’m incredibly thankful for everything my wife does for our family. But when I actually stop and verbalize that to her it does something in me—it affects my heart. Prayer is like that too. God solicits our prayers. But in the process, something changes in us too. And that’s exactly what we need.
  3. Recalibrate your reality and expectations. Because you’re reading this, you’re probably closer to “waiting to upgrade my iPhone 4S” than the “woohoo I have a tin roof” category. Take that into account. Get back to the reality of just how blessed you really are.
  4. Share thanksgiving with other people. Thanksgiving feeds on itself. It’s reciprocal. Publicly verbalizing my thanks and hearing others do so has to increase my own sense of gratitude. Create times in your family or with friends where this will naturally happen.
  5. Sing. There’s a reason that the psalms are filled with thanksgiving. Singing is the natural response of a thankful heart. Sing to the Lord by yourself. Sing as a family. Sing while you’re driving. Just sing! Here to get you started are three song recommendations.

We all have lots to be thankful for. Take the time this year to remind yourself of just how thankful we all should be.