Friday, August 25, 2006

Cultivating "An Attitude of Gratitude"

In the last edition of Fanning The Flame I reviewed the book "Generation Me" by Jean M. Twenge. As a father who desires to follow Christ I saw that there were some significant implications I could glean from reading her book. We are seeing a generation that is raised with "self" at the center; we cannot afford to passively sit back and expect that our families to be immune to this mindset.

Another book I read during my time away with my son in Georgia is called "The Paradox of Choice," by Barry Schwartz. The author points out that we now live in a world that has become overwhelmed with the complexity of our choices. These choices can range from the trivial, such as what cereal to buy, to much more important choices like whom I am going to marry. His book made me more aware of the complexity we are facing in 21st Century America and the toll it takes upon our own sense of well-being. The bottom line truth I took from his findings is that since there are an almost endless variety of choices and expectations, when we do finally make a choice we are rarely content with the choice that have made.

Another concept from his book that I really connected with was his idea that in order to become more content in this world of ever expanding expectations we need to learn to learn to do "counter-factual thinking downward" rather than do what we do more naturally, "counter-factual thinking upward." As you may recall the reason my 16 year-old and I were in Georgia was not the weather; he participated in a baseball tournament in Marietta for an entire week.

The tournament had its ups and downs for the team, but mostly ups. They wound up losing in the semi-final game in extra innings to the Puerto Rican team. Here is counter-factual thinking upward: "If only that call at the plate hadn’t been blown, Kyle would have scored, they would have been up by two runs and then they would have made it to the title game and maybe won it all. If only Joe hadn't been hit by that line drive in the second game and been hospitalized they would have had his pitching and bat and who knows they could have been champs." Counter-factual thinking upward looks at events with disappointment and a gnawing sense of regret.

But on the other hand, counter-factual thinking downward looks at this situation the way I wound up talking to my son: "Your team, the Rainiers ended the tournament as one of the top three out of thirty teams from all over the country! That is quite an accomplishment, and you did it without Joe. And wow, was the Lord looking out for him! He was an inch away from blindness or death from that line drive. And you turned in your best game today, the last game. I am proud of you for persevering, for not giving up." This is not natural for me to think this way. I had to make a conscious choice to see the tournament through that grid.

This idea is not something new. It is merely the cultivation of "the attitude of gratitude" that the Bible commands for us to adopt. As I mentioned in the last edition, we are increasingly being influenced by the indoctrination of "Generation Me," those born in the 1970's, 80's and 90's who have been taught foolishly, along with us Baby Boomers that we deserve to "have it all." We are filled with unrealistic expectations that make self the center of our thinking and tempt us to pout when we don’t get ALL that we desire or think we deserve. For the follower of Christ, we have a huge advantage when it comes to learning this opposite mindset that greatly increases contentment. When we do counter factual thinking downward, we are reminded that we deserve Hell and separation from Almighty God forever and all that would mean in this life for our family, work and relationships. That should put EVERYTHING into perspective and enable us to truly be grateful as we can see ALL of our experience in the light of what we TRULY deserve.

And this mindset must start with me as the dad and then spill out over to the rest of my family members. A good daily dinner conversation starter should be, "So, what happened today that you are thankful for?"


Anonymous said...

i agree, it's very tough in this present day and age to be happy with what you have, or what you achieved at that moment. If only...

In general, my wife and I pass on our pleasure of their acheivement through verbal praise. When they lose, it's we talk of the good and the bad and pretty much move on with life. When they win, same analysis and praise for doing well.

Losing is a part of life that the competitors of the world have a tough time with.

Dave Hunter

Mark McDonald said...

So it seems counter factual downward thinking allows the Me generation to think positively about their failures?

If you want truly grateful children get them involved in the Gospel. Baseball games are great but of little long-term value. As the father of three taekwondo black belt WA state champions I have first hand experience with how little life and spiritual value sports has. Competition and physical exercise are necessary parts of life but again not much of a goal.

Our eleven days on a family mission trip to Alaska in the middle of winter was much more valuable in solidifying their commitment to Christ than five years of taekwondo, state championship, and TKD tour of South Korea.

The daily struggle of attending public school as Christians because dad thinks that young Christians belong out in the world leaves them thankful for Christ in their lives. It leaves them looking forward to a time when they will no longer hunger and thirst and mourn. It leaves them focused on the Gospel with a desire for purity and mercy and to be peacemakers by sharing about the Lord Jesus.

Sure they'll grow up to be something, maybe an athlete, doctor, engineer, musician, mommy or daddy, but they will always have an attitude of gratitude not because they learned some psychological response to failure to achieve some personal narcissistic goal but rather engaged in the Gospel and know where they are headed once this life is finished. They may even maintain such an attitude when their life choices lead to persecution and misunderstanding and opposition and anything but recognition and reward by the world.