The principle of “acting as if” is an old concept that was first written about a century ago by William James who was a philosopher and also a trained physician. He actually coined the principle and outlined how to create motivation to do things that people are reluctant to do.
It’s simple: acting as if you were a certain way can be the first step in getting there. Normally, we find that actions follow intentions or feelings, but this is a cause-and-effect in reverse: if we act that way, oftentimes the feelings or intentions will follow behind. This technique has been used in a variety of pursuits such as overcoming a dislike for something, getting acclimated to a new job, or even forgiving someone.
I think it can also be used for thanksgiving. Usually, we think of the act of thanking as a response to something that has happened or something that has been done for us. We receive a gift, and we are thankful. An illness is healed, a calamity averted, a debt paid, and we are overwhelmed with gratitude.
But is it possible to start with the action of gratitude, even before the feelings are even there? Many people I know have done just that by a simple exercise: grab a pen and a lined piece of paper, number the first 20 lines, and fill each line in with something you can be -not that you are currently, but you could be – grateful for. Anything! 20 of them. Try it. You will be amazed at how quickly your mood, your emotion, your sentiment, even your outlook on the day can change before you even reach the halfway mark!
There are many things that could make us ungrateful: a war in Eastern Europe, yet another hate-motivated mass shooting, persistent human rights violations, atrocities in the past (for which we now have the National Day of Mourning!), . . . the list goes on. But gratitude is a choice. At the end of the day, we choose if we want to be grateful or not. And the ‘act as if’ principle says that not feeling grateful is no excuse. Gratitude does not wish away the bad; rather, it embraces the good. And, as it turns out, it’s good for us!
If you’re not feeling it this Thanksgiving, if the gratitude list looks short next to the grievance list, if human suffering is making a mockery of your attempts to have a glad heart . . . act as if! Trust that there is a reason to be thankful. Believe that you will be more in touch with your Creator as a result.