Image of the words be thankful handwritten text on simple pumpkin background.

Toward the end of the year, we see article after article, blog post after blog post talking about being thankful charitable giving.

Which begs the question – why does conversation about being thankful usually only happen during the end of year Holidays?

Believe me, I'm not being critical. If I were, I'd be preaching to the choir with this post. That choir would be ME. I'm as guilty as the next person about not being thankful all the time.

Let's face it. Life is hard. We do our best to make plans, and then things happen in life out of our control to interrupt our plans.

I try to look for inspiration during these times. I'll often go to my interview series on overcoming adversity and read some of the stories. There's inspiration aplenty in these articles.

I wrote about having an attitude of gratitude in a previous post. At the time, things were not going particularly well for me. I'm not exactly sure what was going on. I only remember that's what inspired me to write.

Being thankful is good any time of the year. It's only natural that on our national Holiday of Thanksgiving we write and blog about the things for which we are thankful and about giving back.

What I'd like to do in today's post is to raise the bar for all of us (yes, that includes me); to help us understand the reasons we should be thankful; to make our gratitude more apparent in our everyday lives.

I'd love to hear from you too. After reading, please share the things in your life for which you are the most grateful.

Our Thanksgiving tradition

One of our traditions at Thanksgiving dinner is for each person at the table to offer at least one thing for which they are thankful in their lives. Over the years, we've hosted lots of non-family members at our dinner table. These guests have ranged from homeless individuals to people going through divorce or separation to people who would otherwise have been alone. The tradition stayed regardless of who was there.

It's something that my wife, Cathy, and I have always tried to do.

In the past several years, Thanksgiving has been a difficult Holiday for us. Our son, who is in a battle with addiction, has mostly not been around for the Holidays. We are six-hundred miles from our families in Indiana.

Having others join us for Thanksgiving fills in the gap from the absence of our son and family members who are far away.

We had been talking for weeks about what we would do for Thanksgiving this year. We were looking for a place to get away. During our search for a place, Cathy got a call from one of our good friends. They always spend Thanksgiving with one of their families. For many families, Thanksgiving brings drama. That was the case for our friends. They decided they wanted to do something different this year. To remedy that problem, they invited us to join them.

What a blessing! We went from dreading the weekend to being excited about it. In addition, it satisfied our desire to get away. They live on six acres of beautiful land at the base of a mountain (Virginia style, that is).

End of year giving

The other way many of us express our gratitude toward the end of the year is in our charitable giving. Check out this infographic from a couple of years ago.

According to Neon, a company that provides CRM (customer relationship management) software for nonprofits, nearly one-third (31%) of annual giving occurs in December each year. Twelve percent of that giving happens in the last three days of December. Isn't that crazy?

Nonprofits (53.8% of them) start planning their year-end campaigns in October. Get this. Some 28% of nonprofits raise between 26% and 50% of their annual giving from their year-end efforts.

There are lot more interesting statistics in the study that drive home the message about year-end giving. You can check it out here.

Nothing new

As far as I can tell, it's always been this way. Tax laws in the past have encouraged much of this behavior. People would wait to see what their incomes were, how the stock market performed, and what the outcome looks like for the following year.

Which begs the question.

Are the year-end givers doing it for tax reasons or out of gratitude? The answer likely is a little of both. If people have a year-end giving amount planned (be it a percentage of income or dollars), it makes sense to maximize the tax benefits of those gifts.

With the change in the tax laws this year, it will be interesting to see if the amounts given will fall. For many taxpayers, the increase in the standard deduction takes away the tax incentive for charitable giving.

My hope is the primary reason for giving is not the tax benefit but the desire to give out of our abundance to benefit causes we champion. In other words, our giving comes from a sense of gratitude and a desire to give back.

Being thankful is a mindset

Now let's get to the gist of the question for the post. Why do we seem to only focus on gratitude toward the end of the year? What would it take for us to be more thankful and give throughout the year?

To me, it won't happen unless we have an abundance mindset accompanied by a desire to help others. Being thankful is a mindset. If we are so focused on success, getting the next promotion, buying the future business, buying the next shiny object, there will likely be no room for giving.

The chasing many of us are so prone to, snuffs out our desire to give. Keeping up with the Joneses or acquiring things for our self-interest will leave us empty. There will always be someone with more stuff. Someone will always have a higher income. And there will always be someone one with more/better _____________ fill in the blank.

A thankful mindset helps us be content in our circumstances and with what we have. Scripture tells us, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4: 11-13).

In today's competitive, material world, that's a hard attitude to adopt, isn't it? I've talked many times before about the wisdom Scripture offers for everyday life. You don't have to be a Christian to benefit from it.

Seriously, can you see anything negative about learning to be content in all circumstances? Contentment allows us to live with a thankful, abundance mindset.

Steps to becoming more grateful

In my post on having an attitude of gratitude, I offered a list of steps to take. I think it's a pretty good list. In case you missed it, here it is.

Gratitude lists

  1. Start small – At the end of each day, think of at least two things that happened that day for which you feel grateful. Things happen every day that are positive. Maybe someone complimented you on your appearance. Perhaps someone let you get in front of them in the line at the store, or, better yet, on the highway (it does happen). Doing this daily creates a habit that will be lasting.
  2. Think big – Once you develop a habit of gratefulness for small things, expand your thinking. Do you have a roof over your head, food on the table, clothes for every season, car(s) to drive, a job? That's a pretty good list of things for which to be thankful. If you don't stop to think about it, you will likely take these things for granted.

Activities

  1. Volunteer – I can't think of a better way to understand how blessed we are than to serve those who are less fortunate. When I worked in Washinton, DC, I drove a van every Monday that took food to the homeless at three locations on the streets of DC. We served hot meals, sandwiches, water, and hot or iced tea to hundreds of people every day. Doing this gave me a whole different view of how much I had. It's one of the best things you can do to become more grateful.
  2. Be an encourager – We see other people every day who are struggling. Maybe they have wayward children. Perhaps they're in the midst of a problematic relationship. Nowadays, many people get laid off or lose jobs. Stand with them in their troubles. That doesn't mean trying to fix them or their problems. Encouragement comes from just being present with them in their struggles. That leads to our being grateful for helping someone who is hurting.
  3. If necessary, fake it – Does that sound crazy? It isn't. You've heard the phrase, “fake it until you make it” right?  If you don't feel grateful, fake it like you are. How? Smile more. Research shows that smiling increases dopamine and serotonin to the brain. Dopamine is the brain chemical that triggers feelings of pleasure. Doesn't that sound like a pretty simple solution? Smiling takes little effort and has tremendous benefits. You'll feel better. The people around you will feel better. Why not give it a try?

Final thoughts

I'm a financial advisor and blogger. You'd think the topic of money would be first and foremost on my mind, wouldn't you? Of course, money is critical to putting a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our backs. It's also vital to make sure we have enough of it to accomplish our short and long-term goals. That's an integral part of the financial planning I do for people.

However, when money becomes the dominating force in our lives, and the pursuit of it drives our behavior, bad things often happen. We forget about the essential relationships in our lives. Money and finances are in the top three causes of divorce and marital problems in most polls on the subject. I've seen it cause problems with clients. I've had many friends whose marriages have crumbled over the topic.

If we live our lives with the abundance, thankful mindset, money problems move way down the list of bad things that happen to us. When we are grateful for what we have, we are more generous. Others, in turn, benefit from our generosity when we give our time, talent, and treasures to help them. When others benefit, the people around them benefit. That's what it means to pay it forward.

If we feel blessed, we should be a blessing to others.

And in my experience, when we are generous with our time, talents, and money, we are the ones who receive the greatest benefit of all. Who wouldn't want to sign up for that?

Now it's your turn. Do you have an abundance mindset? Is being thankful part of that mindset? What are the things in your life for which you are most grateful?