Thankfulness is not a feeling

Written by Lisa Tyson
Published on November 09, 2021

I have been sitting with my computer open in my lap for over an hour. I have typed and deleted. And typed some more—and deleted it again. 

Seriously, it’s not that hard! Write something about thankfulness and gratitude—anything about thanksgiving and gratitude. And for the last hour, I’ve got nothing except a title. And I don’t even know where that came from. 

I started typing, and that is what came out. I always pray about what I am going to write and ask that God guides my fingers over the keys. It seems at this point that he stopped after the title: Thankfulness is not a feeling. 

I know that there is something in there. I am just waiting for him to bring it out. Still waiting. I’ve taken a walk, folded laundry, gone on an ice cream date with my husband, played a game of Solitaire, watched a bit of college football and waited for something amazing to come out onto the page. 

Thankful or happy?

The thing is, the only thought that keeps coming through my mind are those five words: thankfulness is not a feeling. I guess that it is good that thankfulness is not a feeling, because sometimes I feel more “thankful” than others. 

I was thankful that my son passed his college algebra test. I was not thankful that our puppy ate my daughter’s new shoe. I was thankful that my oldest son called me the other day on his way to class. I was not thankful that I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer to thaw and we had to eat leftovers for the 47th time this week. 

Am I the only one who walks through life being both “thankful” and “not thankful” depending on what is going on? It seems like we throw the word “thankful” around and confuse it with “happy.” 

Gratitude from deep down

The reality is that thankfulness is not dependent on what is happening around us. Thankfulness is dependent on what is happening inside us. David says in Psalm 100:4, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise” (NIV). 

When we enter his gates with thanksgiving that means we are full of gratitude, which is a readiness to show appreciation and return kindness. Gratitude isn’t a flippant, “say thank you” kind of thing. Gratitude comes from deep inside you. 

I don’t want to confuse feeling happy with expressing gratitude through thankfulness. I don’t want to raise children who do, either. The opposite of gratitude is a forgetfulness or a poor return to kindness shown to you. 

Basically, the opposite of gratitude is acting like you deserve more than what you have. We cannot be thankful and think that we are getting the short end of the stick at the same time. 

I have heard this question asked, “What if you woke up tomorrow morning with only the things that you had thanked God for the day before?” That is a question that will stop and make you think, won’t it? 

If we live a life entering his gates with thanksgiving in our hearts daily, we don’t have to worry about that because we are living a life of dependency, recognizing that every good and perfect gift comes from him (James 1:17). 

He is enough

When we say we are thankful, we are saying that we recognize that what we have is from him, and through him, and in him. We are saying that without him we are nothing. We are recognizing that the “things” we are thankful for like our family and our friends are gifts from a loving father to his children. 

When we enter his gates with thanksgiving in our hearts, we come before the Lord knowing that he is Jehovah Jireh, and he has provided all that we need out of his riches and glory. We go before the Lord knowing that he is enough and because of that, we are enough in him. 

When we enter into his gates with thanksgiving in our hearts, it does not matter what is happening around us. What is our response when thanksgiving is in our hearts—we come before him with praise. What else could we do? 

We can’t give feelings

During this season of Thanksgiving, when we talk with our children about the things that we are thankful for, let’s put a new spin on what thankfulness really is. 

It is not just the things that make us “feel happy.” We can be thankful even when we don’t “feel happy.” 

I am glad that I waited for his words to come through my fingers. So, thankfulness is not a feeling. It is living in the fact that we “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). We can give thanks—we can’t give feelings. 

So—what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? How are you entering his gates?

Consider a few extra resources:

Growing Up Grateful

I Am Blessed

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Lisa Tyson

My name is Lisa Tyson. I am a Baylor graduate, have been married to the only man I have ever loved for the past 24 years, and we have 3 perfectly imperfect children — 20 (rising Jr. at Texas Tech), 17 (rising Senior), and 12 (rising 7th grader). Our oldest two are boys and the youngest is a sweet and spicy girl. I run my own practice as an Educational Diagnostician working with school districts to identify and serve their bilingual students while my husband works in the Operations Department for our church. I speak Spanish fluency and I love to read and scrapbook. One of my many life verses is, “She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future” (Proverbs 31:25). I am far from an Insta-mazing wife and mom — we eat the same leftovers over and over, I forget every picture day, and I had to buy my middle child new socks and underwear when I packed all of his and sent them to college with his brother (in an effort to not forget anything). But one thing I do well is this: I remember that the Lord has lavished us with His grace and nothing that touches our family is by accident. So we press on and push through knowing that He has always been faithful — no matter what.

Read more about Lisa

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