I don’t mean to be the grinch who ruined a good Facebook ‘thing’, but I’ve been conflicted about so many of my friends’ participation in the “30 Days of Thankfulness” status update extravaganza.
If you haven’t seen it, each day in November, you are supposed to name one thing for which you are thankful.
I don’t think I’ll be participating.
To clarify, I’m a big fan of being thankful.
I certainly try to live my life in gratitude and always be aware of my blessings. I’m thankful for things big and small. From the Grace and Mercy of God (which counts as a BIG thing to me) to the way my cat curls up on the bed ( a small but joyful image),
I actively try to pay attention to blessing, in part because if I’m thinking of gratitude, I tend to bitch less about the annoyances of life.
Thankfulness is biblical. Scriptures are chock full of illustrations of people offering praise to God. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Psalm 139:
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
And I certainly prefer 30 Days of Thankfulness to 30 Days of Whining, Gritching, or Boring.
You’re probably wondering why, then, if I’m such a fan of being thankful, would I be opposed to the Facebook exercise?
I think it is the public display of thankfulness that gives me pause. I certainly don’t think we need to only be grateful in silence. But often what one person intends to be a status update of gratitude sounds to another person like a status update of interminable bragging.
And I am probably already guilty of that more than I’d like to be.
Celebrating the awesomeness of my children can be a full time job, for example. (Just let me know if you’d like me to elaborate...) But how do those updates about soccer tournaments and Cross Country meets sound for my friends who might read those posts and wish they had children and weren’t battling with infertility? Or what about my friends who have had a child die in a car accident or from cancer? Or a friend whose child is struggling with addiction, or learning disabilities, or whatever?
How does my public thankfulness impact my friends? Does it lead them to thankfulness in their own life? Or just make them feel depressed?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be able to share our good news with each other. But I know the holidays are difficult for many people and wonder how all of this public display of thankfulness will play into that.
We seek to find balance when we pray in church. We celebrate both the birth of new babies and we pray for the woman struggling with infertility.
We celebrate marriages as we also pray for those in the midst of divorce or loss.
We celebrate marriages as we acknowledge marriage is not the only way to live a full and complete life.
We celebrate someone’s remission as we also pray with those facing recurrence.
When I was pregnant with Alden, one of my friends was also pregnant, and due at almost the same time. She miscarried that child early on. But she was there with me as mine continued. And she celebrated with me at his birth. And I mourned with her at her loss. Her presence in my celebration was a gift to me.
It is a part of living in community–to support each other in celebration and in loss–and to help each other find reasons to be thankful in all of those moments.
So maybe as we do 30 Days of Thankfulness, we also need 30 Days of something else. Lament, maybe?
Or maybe we need 30 Days of Brutal Honesty, because sometimes all the thankfulness/bragging makes it seem our lives our perfect, when, in fact, we know that isn’t the case.
We rarely see facebook posts like:
“I love my daughter and her completely mediocre report card”.
“We screamed at each other a lot in our house this morning.”
“I’m crippled by depression today”.
“I only post pictures in which I’m smiling, but I don’t smile all the time.”
And that’s probably for the best. I’m not sure Facebook is the best place to get help for some of those difficult moments. But I think it leaves us unbalanced some days.
So don’t stop with the Thankfulness project because of me. I’ll join you in the theory of it. And as we gather in person or in conversations over the phone, I’ll celebrate your joys and mourn your losses with you.
I’ll try not to use Facebook in a way that will cause my friends to doubt their reasons to be thankful in their own lives.
And know that I’m more than 30 days worth of thankful for you.
In response to this post, MaryAnn McKibben Dana reflected on the question too, with some good guidelines:
Five Ways to Make the Most of the 30 Days of Thankfulness
And just to be really clear, I’m certainly not opposed to being thankful or to practicing gratitude. If it is bringing you life, keep at it.
Thanks, everyone, for engaging with me on this topic.
22 thoughts on “30 Days of Thankfulness?”
Fascinating reflections. Personally Mother’s Day annoys the heck out of me but not these 30 Days posts where people are thankful for their mothers, I think because my whole timeline doesn’t do 30 Days the way it does Mother’s Day.
That said, I love the concept behind the “brutal honesty” idea. My worry about it (based on my writing in another place where I try to be as honest as I can, given the circumstances) is that my whole TL would swoop in either to comfort me, if i said something piteous, or to tell me I didn’t really feel that way, did I? or to chide me (if I admitted some problematic behavior that’s a trigger for the morals police).
Right. I get that.
It seems that as we navigate the way social media is providing community for us now (I’m no longer debating whether or not it is, just observing it as fact) we need to attend to that. Is she just upset and needing to vent? Does she need/want my advice? Is she really in danger? It probably suggests we need to not “vaguebook” if at all possible. “The world is too much today” could be frustration that kids/work/life are frustrating. Or it could be a suicide cry.
I’ve had similar conversations about Christmas Letter updates. Some day I want to write, “Well, my son is totally obsessed with Star Wars and fights with Light sabers all day. he would spend the entire day playing Star wars Angry Birds if we let him, and sometimes, when I have a lot to do, I do let him (but don’t tell my husband). My daughter is pretty smart, but she’s actually terrible at soccer, and it’s a little painful to watch her. Genetics do count, I guess. etc. etc. etc.” Yet I am participating in the 30 days of Thankfulness this year. I hope I can do it with thoughtfulness and honesty. –Wendy
We have friends who write their Christmas card each year with the most brutally honest family update. I admire that so much.
If you end up sending a Christmas letter add me to your list! : ) love it! Sounds like our house!
Interesting take, Marci, and an engaging post. I decided to do the 30 days frankly because I need a framework to keep myself honest about being thankful right now. I’m two days into it and I don’t say it’s for everyone. Something I’m trying is to think of things and recognize things I normally wouldn’t name, hoping to come into closer relationship with my blessings. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for your thoughtful post.
One of my friends is thankful for friends- both her actual friends and the TV show Friends and all the joy that show has brought her. So she’s doing 30 days of Friends quotes. I’m really enjoying them so far! I can see where the 30 Days of Gratitude could actually be seen like a Pinterest of sorts- a collection of nice things that has the potential to increase feelings of inadequacy. On the other hand, it’s nice to know that some people are really taking time to reflect and express gratitude when otherwise it may be something they overlook.
Thank you for this post. I so occasionally post things about my depression and do get sometimes helpful responses. I also do like ‘honest’ posts that not only make me feel less alone with my depression but sometimes it allows me to help another person
So I don’t really agree that Facebook is not the right place for the depression posts.
I am totally agreeing though that JUST posting thankfulness and other wonderful situations makes Facebook sometimes a ‘sad’ place to be. Or is it meaningless?
Thanks Rob. I think that in face to face conversations, people don’t often know how to be helpful to friends in depression. I think that is magnified in social media. I do think honesty about depression is very important and am glad Facebook does provide space for that too.
wow. I never thought of your perspective. I decided to do the thankfulness this year, and never considered the point you are making. I think facebook (although I engage in it) is sort of an odd thing, anyway.
Marci, I love this write up and I do agree with all of it. However, I am taking part in it this year due to a comment that a parishioner gave me. He said that I did not seem very comfortable naming God’s blessings. After thinking about it, I’m not. I find it very easy to talk about my failings and why I am totally depraved. I am always very honest about myself in the pulpit and other places. I am not very good at talking about the blessings and successes in my life. I feel the need to take 30 days to be publicly thankful for things that I have as a personal challenge to remember that I need to talk about blessing somewhat in balance with forgiveness (always, ALWAYS, erring on the side of forgiveness and depravity though)
That’s an interesting observation to hear and take to heart, Collin.
My struggle with gratitude is the part that attributes the good stuff to God. I wrestle with how to put language around that, given how tricky that can be theologically.
Look forward to hearing how things change for you with this practice. I’ve always been a fan of Whitney’s blog for this reason. She does gratitude well.
I am not participating in the numbered list thing…makes me twitchy.
I do like the idea of brutal honesty…I have one closed FB group where a few of us are brutally honest about our conservative husbands (married to us liberal wives). But I would not feel safe doing it in a wider scale. My mother reads my FB and believes that it’s her job, through concentrated worry and fretting, to fix anything she sees wrong in the world. Especially with me. Oy. (ps: how did I turn out like this? I wonder!) 🙂
I decided to do the 30 days of Thankfulness as a spiritual practice. I do it because it’s a good way for my to practice looking for the grace in my life and naming it. We are surrounded by so much bad news that sometimes it takes work to name the good news. For instance when we call for joys and concerns during worship at my church people can more easily voice their concerns than joys. We are much better at naming the darkness instead of the light. I suppose I could do this practice on my own without broadcasting my gratitudes. But having to post something each day keeps me faithful to the practice.
I LOVE this commentary! (Well, I love all your commentaries, but this one particularly touched home.) I have a sister-in-law, journalism major, who lives in CO and I rarely see. Her Facebook page is a personal advertisement for her fabulousness, but paints a vastly different picture than the realities in her life. I finally made the decision to unfriend her, just because I was so tired of seeing her self-aggrandizement. Despite how fabulous my life REALLY is, I found that I couldn’t see her frequent posts without feeling inferior – tending to believe her proclamations even though I knew better. I agree that many, many people genuinely post genuine things they are genuinely thankful for, and more power to them. But I also agree that people using FB can – whether intentionally or not – use it as a platform simply for self promotion. Thanks for bringing a balanced perspective!
I don’t like the 30 day thankful status updates. So thankful my kids go to the most expensive school around blah blah. So thankful little Tommy is so amazing at soccer. So thankful that I’m so rich and don’t have to work. So thankful for my awesome neighbors in neighborhood way too pricey.
That hasn’t been my experience this year. There have been a couple of updates that were a little questionable, but I’ve been surprised (and pleased) by how little of that I see. But I’m sure that these things are widely varied.
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