Thanksgiving always arrives on the last Thursday in November. But this year it seemed to come at an especially opportune moment. With the unrelenting turmoil and anger in the upper echelons of our national government, a pause and brief Thanksgiving respite could not be more welcome.
It is soul-soothing to put aside the daily noise and commotion and come together with family and friends in a spirit of gratitude, focusing on the many blessings we enjoy.
Myriad studies and real-life experience, along with the wisdom of preachers, poets, philosophers, counselors and wise men and women, teach us the enormous value of cultivating a thankful attitude. We can call gratitude a personality trait, a mood, or an emotion. But what we know is that it creates happiness, reduces stress, produces emotional resilience, and improves overall wellness.
Gratitude is such a simple trait. Its benefits are remarkable, yet it costs nothing. It is there for the taking. It’s simply a matter of pro-actively remembering and thinking about the blessings in our lives and noticing the simple, good things all around us. Gratitude can be a life changer. But it’s also easy to brush aside. It is sometimes tempting to wallow in self-pity and resentment, comparing ourselves to others, rather than allowing gratitude to enrich our lives.
Besides improving our personal mental health, gratitude also makes the world around us a better place. It lubricates our interaction with others, builds close friendships, creates positive family and workplace cultures, and strengthens family bonds.
Grateful individuals produce happy, loving families. Healthy families produce close neighborhoods and pleasant communities. And successful communities form the foundation of a great nation.
Gratitude, practiced widely, can help transform society, perhaps even improve our troubled national political institutions that thrive on anger and outrage. It’s easier to find compromise and common ground when opponents see the good in each other and have a thankful outlook on life.
Thankfulness isn’t always a natural trait. Being a thankful person actually takes practice and commitment. Some of us have to work at it. But it can be cultivated and become a life-changing habit.
Here are some of the ways I’ve tried to make gratitude a guiding influence in my life:
--Notice and be grateful for the small things in our lives. The touch of a baby’s hand. Sunsets and sunrise. A star-filled night sky. Walking through crisp autumn leaves. All the remarkable beauties of nature, art and music. A simple chat with a spouse or grandchild.
If we don’t find joy and gratitude in the little things, even great trappings of wealth and power will not bring the peace and satisfaction we seek.
-- Be grateful for challenges and see the opportunities in them. When setbacks and hardships strike, we can either feel sorry for ourselves and give up, or we can decide we’re going to rise to the occasion, become stronger, and learn from the experience. Failure is often a better teacher than success, if we understand that hardships, too, are blessings.
--Be thankful for all of the people around us, and see the best in them. Much is being written today about isolation and loneliness, attributable in part to electronic devices and social media. Nothing can replace real human interaction, real listening, the warm feeling of belonging and knowing that others care. Gratitude for our family members, friends, co-workers and even strangers can be transforming on a personal level and also for society.
--Be thankful for community and country. Despite our problems, we live in the best communities, the best state and best country in the world.
--Be thankful for the wonders of life that we can’t fully explain, including a power greater than ourselves, and a belief in ultimate peace and justice.
The great Roman statesman and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but is the parent of all others.”