The Challenge of Thankfulness

Blah. Blah. Blah. That was my gut reaction when I got this challenge recently.

Identify three things that you are thankful for and start every day focused on them.  See what happens.

In fairness to me — I come from a place where “thankfulness” has been sugar-coated, watered down, sucked dry and beaten to death.  A place where “count your blessings” is an overused, last-ditch, trump card response when we find ourselves paralyzed by another person’s pain.  Where once every November we go around the table and belch out slight variations on the same three platitudes.

“I’m thankful for family.”

“I’m thankful for friends.”

“I’m thankful for money.”

sidenote: we don’t come right out and say “money” but . . . 

So I’m a little jaded on the whole thankfulness exercise and quite frankly “challenges” seem to be spinning a bit out of control too . . .

Ice bucket challenges.

Extreme duct tape challenges.

Bathing in hot Cheetohs challenges.

For real.

People are bathing in hot Cheetos.

I don’t really need a challenge . . . but then two things happened.

One, I got even more jaded about the fact that I was jaded about something like thankfulness. Who gets jaded about thankfulness? What’s next?

Jaded about happiness?

Clean air?


Two, We had a really annoying financial month.

I’ll spare you the whiny, first world problem details but it is one of those “too much month at the end of the money” situations.  You’ve been there, right?




It was a slippery slope.  One thought spawned another and it didn’t take me long to move from, “we need to be super careful this month” to “do I even make enough money?” to “is this all I’m worth?” to “I’m not getting younger” to “my kids will never go to college and they’re going to end up broke and living in cardboard boxes.”

My stress levels were through the roof and I was feeling strained thin.




So I took the challenge but I was resolved not to make it fluffy. It took multiple days of hard digging to even get close. I waded through the masses of “things to be thankful for” and honestly, I felt stuck in a cliche . . . “I have SO much to be thankful for.”

Blah Blah Blah.

But really . . .  I do have SO much to be thankful for.

Picking three, however, is hard. Here’s where I landed:


ONE: I am thankful for the flavor of my family

I LOVE what makes my family absolutely unique. I love the adoption bit. The globe-trekking bit. The China bit. The curly hair. The introversion. The extroversion. The airports. The summers home. The family traditions. The quirks. The journey. The pitstops along the way . . .

This list doesn’t stop . . . ever . . . and it all blends to make something so rich and so good that I can’t hardly stand it.

I love the flavor of my family.


TWO: I love the width and depth of my friends.

Easy there . . . I’m not fat shaming.

I have good friends. All over the world. It’s ridiculous.

Friends that I can not see for years and instantly jump in where we left off. Friends that make me laugh until my ears hurt. Friends that I can philosophize and theologize with in such a way that we’ll both feel like we’ve figured out the worlds problems (if only we could get anyone else to listen). Friends that would walk with me through anything but would be the very first to smack me in the back of the head if I stepped out of line.

I love the width and depth of my friends.

And then I got stuck.

Couldn’t find my third one.

Maybe there are just two.

Until one day (in the middle of the hard money month) I was walking to work. My work walk is not typical.

9 kilometers.

Along the ocean.


Seriously. Who gets to do this?

Turns out that question was another slippery slope but it was a much, much better ride. My thoughts jumped from “I’m walking by the ocean” to “I’m going to a job that I love” to “I have EVERYTHING I could ever need” to “I have so much more than I could ever even want.”

I was embarassed of my whininess.

I was waylayed by flavor and width and depth.

And I found my third thankful.


THREE: I am thankful for the value of my finances.

It hit me (like a ton of bricks) that I am not in poverty. In my absolute worst financial month I can’t even see the poverty line.  My kids are going to eat and go to school and play with their friends and fight over what to watch on Netflix. Another payday was coming and we were going to make it but even if we couldn’t, we have layer after layer after layer of people who would instantly help us waiting just on the other side of my pride.

This is a hard month.

This is not poverty.

And then it hit me even harder. I am not a billionaire. In my best financial month, I can’t even imagine the billionaire line.

But show me a billionaire as rich as me.

My financial stress doesn’t even compare.  My family gets my attention. I GET to do my job and I love every minute of it. I GET to live cross-culturally and travel and meet people who look at the same thing I am looking at and see something completely different.

“Not fair” took on a whole new meaning and suddenly I felt empathy for everyone who wasn’t me. I’m not saying my money is worth more than a billionaire’s . . . but it kinda’ is.

Nothing had changed.

Different perspective.

So content.

I see the irony and the hypocrisy here.




Blah Blah Blah.

But it was worth it — to pause — and wrestle with a challenge without involving ice buckets . . . or duct tape . . . or Cheetohs.

Just the challenge of genuine, unfluffy thankfulness.

Tag. You’re it.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Published by

Jerry Jones

Jerry lives in China with his beautiful blended family. He is a trainer, a speaker, an adventurer, a culture vulture and an avid people watcher. He writes about all of that at

Discover more from A Life Overseas |

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading