By all accounts, the holiday season is one of the most charitable times of the year.

According to at least one report, volunteerism typically increases by nearly 50% this time of year. 

That’s different from charitable giving, which can be skewed by people wanting to lower their tax hit. Volunteerism means people are giving their time — it’s much harder to be cynical about something like that.

The data is in: Gratitude leads to generosity. But why? And more importantly, how can we foster this attitude year round instead of waiting for the weather to get colder?

To answer that, we need to look at what gratitude actually really is.

What is a Gratitude Mindset?

The gratitude mindset is a continual acknowledgement of what you’ve been given and its importance in your life. 

That may sound *blah*, but it’s a lot better than what the dictionary defines it as. According to Webster, gratitude is a “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for the and to return kindness.”

So, in other words, gratitude is being thankful. But if thankfulness is to be gracious, then what does it mean to be thankful? There’s just a little bit of circular logic there.

Gratitude goes deeper. It’s constant, deep, active, and evolving. The more you’re aware of what you have, the more you find yourself in a state of continuous gratitude.

For me, gratitude typically involves three different stages.

The Gratitude Mindset is an Understanding that What You Have is Enough

Emphasis on the “understanding” part.

I don’t think humans are intrinsically designed to be content. I think there’s a part of all of us that desperately wants to grab as much stuff as humanly possible, because we don’t know if it’ll be there again.

This was the same mindset that the Israelites had in the desert. When the manna from Heaven came, they gathered what they needed and then left some for the next day, despite God telling them to leave none of it overnight.

Why? Maybe because they were lazy, but it could also be because they weren’t entirely sure more food would be coming the next day.

We have to train our minds to be content. Paul said as much in the New Testament: “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content” (Philippians 4:13).

This makes sense from a purely practical standpoint. There is no way — ever — that we will have enough to make us truly satisfied. We’re always wanting more: More money, more status, more cars, more sleep, more food. 

To train our hearts to be content is a discipline that takes time and effort, but one that pays off handsomely in the end.

The Gratitude Mindset is an Understanding of Where that “Enough” Came From

One person called gratitude a “moral barometer” for our life. It’s the “acknowledgement that one has been the beneficiary of another person’s moral actions.

That’s a great way to put that. Part of developing a gratitude mindset is the acknowledgement of where those blessings came from. 

Paul told Timothy to tell those who were rich in this world to put their hope on God — ostensibly because He is the source of those every blessing. That’s not to negate the hard work that we all (hopefully) do in constructing our lives, but as a reminder that much of the things that happen in this world depend on His Hand.

“Just as you do not know the path of the wind, and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes everything.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

In talking about the hope of the Resurrection, Paul talks about the power of God’s grace to spread from person to person. 2 Corinthians 4:15 states that the “grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.”

There is no concept more worthy of our praise than salvation, but the same applies to anything else in life. Once we recognize that God is the giver of all good things (James 1:17), our attitude begins to change to the world around us.

The Gratitude Mindset is a Desire to Share that “Enough” With Others

Proverbs 11:24 presents an interesting paradox: “There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.”

How is it possible that someone who gives generously also receives generously? That seems counter-intuitive to our thinking. In order to grow, we need to collect as much as possible, not give it away.

And yet Solomon — the wisest man who ever lived — argued for generosity almost as a means of growing wealth. 

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The University of Notre Dame has an initiative centered around the Science of Generosity. They discuss this “generosity paradox” in enlightening terms.

“The generosity paradox can also be stated in the negative. By grasping onto what we currently have, we lose out on better goods that we might have gained. In holding onto what we possess, we diminish its long-term value to us. By always protecting ourselves against future uncertainties, we are affected in ways that make us more anxious about uncertainties and vulnerable to future misfortunes. In short, by failing to care for others we do not properly take care of ourselves. It is no coincidence that the word ‘miser’ is etymologically related to the word ‘miserable.’”

What we don’t realize about generosity is the “exponential” impact of our generosity. We give to someone, they feel blessed, and they share with others.

On several occasions, Hillside has helped with the work in other countries, supporting needy saints and spreading the Gospel. We tend to view that through a one-to-one lens; we help them, they’re helped, case closed.

In reality, we have no idea of the real impact of our giving. The help we give might be just enough help they need to help someone else. The ripple effect could be enormous.

By sharing with others, we’re reaching far beyond the direct beneficiary. Eventually, it’s possible that the effect of that may even reverberate back unto ourselves.

The Gratitude Mindset Can Be Trained

In case you assume that you’re just a “bah humbug Mr. Scrooge,” I have good news for you: Your attitude can be changed.

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In 2017, Dr. Christina Karns led a study at the University of Oregon that showed just how much developing intentional gratitude changed our mental makeup.

She took two groups of women. The first group was instructed to journal about everyday, neutral items. What they did, where they went, what they ate — typical journal entry material.

The second group was told to keep a gratitude journal. Every day, they wrote down things they were specifically thankful for that day.

After a period of time, she watched their brains as each group observed certain events. One of them was watching money go into their bank account (hooray!), while the other saw money going to one of their favorite charities.

Both journalling groups observed both events, and what she discovered was truly interesting.

The group that had spent time daily writing down what they were thankful for recorded greater satisfaction when they watched money going to charity than they did money going into their own account. 

In short, the more they became a grateful person, the more pleasure they derived from watching other people receive things. It stands to reason that the reverse could be true as well.

Gratitude Leads to Generosity. What are You Waiting For?

Wherever you’re at when you read this article, I challenge you to do one thing.

Each of the next seven days, write down one thing that you’re thankful for. Try to be as specific as possible so that you’re not repeating things, but make sure it’s genuine and meaningful.

My bet is that by the beginning of that week, you’ll develop a gratitude mindset that lends itself to sharing with others. And if that’s the case, you may have started a ripple effect that impacts the world in a huge way.

At the very least though, you’ll be a happier person. That much is sure.

Last modified: November 21, 2022