Pilgrims landing, 1620
Thanksgiving Day is upon us, and we are told to be grateful. But grateful for what? We should be grateful to God for life on this beautiful Earth in this incredible universe. We should be grateful for loved ones and friends. We should be grateful for health, insofar as we have it – and if we don’t, we should still be grateful for the years that we did have it. We should be grateful for living in a free country with an abundance of necessities and even luxuries. And each of us has additional things for which to be grateful.
All this is true, though hardly original. But there is one more thing for which we should be grateful, because it does much to cause happiness and prevent unhappiness. And that is gratitude itself. Think about it. What other quality has the effect of making it easier for us to be happy and harder for us to be unhappy, regardless of our circumstances?
● When I wake up in the morning, sometimes I think how lucky I am to wake up next to a loving wife, to wake up able to function normally, or even to wake up at all. When I have these thoughts, I get up happier, no matter what I have to do that day.
● When I say good morning to my wife, sometimes I think how lucky I am that she is healthy and able to reply. When I have this thought, I am happier to be with her, no matter whether we have had differences over some minor issue.
● When I brush my teeth and comb my hair, sometimes I look in the mirror and think how lucky I am to have most of my teeth and hair. When I have this thought, I am less likely to complain that my hair is gray, and that I have more gold in my mouth than in my pocket.
● When I see the gray hair, sometimes I think that no one wants to grow old. When I have this thought, I remember all those who died young while defending our freedom, and I realize that they would have been happy to live out their lives and grow old.
● When I walk through our home, sometimes I think how lucky we are to live in a country that allows us the freedom to own a home. When I have this thought, I am less likely to complain about how expensive it would be to upgrade it to the latest fashion.
● When I eat breakfast, sometimes I think how lucky I am to have food to eat, to be able to eat it, and to have someone to eat it with. When I have these thoughts, I am less likely to complain that there are foods I no longer eat because they are unhealthful, or because they now disagree with me.
● When I look over at the corner, sometimes I feel sad when I remember where the dog dish used to be. When I have this thought, I recall all the love and happy times our dogs gave us, and my sadness is replaced by gratitude to God for the loan of His creatures.
● When I read the paper, sometimes I think how chaotic and violent the world tends to be. When I have this thought, I am grateful that America is free enough to have a strong economy, and wise enough to devote about 4 percent of it to our military – which is the only force that can restrain the chaos and violence in the world.
● When I get into my car, sometimes I think how lucky I am to afford a car, to be able to drive it, to have the freedom to drive where I please, and to have survived a serious accident. When I have these thoughts, I am less likely to be jealous of those who drive more expensive cars.
● When I close the door of my car and hear the solid sound, sometimes I am reminded that the car was made in Germany. When I have this thought, I am grateful for all those who fought and died to assure that German factories now make cars, not tanks.
● When I can’t find a new book worth reading, sometimes I pick up “The Brotherhood of War” by W.E.B. Griffin, starting with “The Lieutenants” and ending with “The Generals.” When I do this, I am reminded of the meaning of honor. So when we drive past Basilone Road near Camp Pendleton on Interstate 5, I say a silent “Thanks, Manila John” instead of griping about the traffic.
● When I think of John Basilone, I think of his wife Lena. They had been married only seven months when he was killed in action on Iwo Jima. She never remarried and died at age 86. (Watch the TV miniseries “The Pacific.”) When I think of them, I am grateful for having been married for decades, not months. And I am grateful for loyalty, both John’s and Lena’s. Semper Fi.
● When I see a film about World War II, sometimes I am reminded that the German machine guns were of current design (click here), while ours were designed during World War I (click here and here). When I have this thought, I don’t grumble when I pay the taxes that buy our troops modern weapons, so they don’t have to make do with leftovers.
● When I take a walk with my wife, sometimes I think how lucky I am to be able to walk, and to have a wife who is also able to walk. When I have these thoughts, I am more appreciative of the scenery, and less likely to complain about minor annoyances.
● When I sit down to write my column, sometimes I think how lucky I am to live in the computer age, so I can word-process, then post my column with ease, thus greatly increasing my productivity. When I have these thoughts, I am less likely to complain about problems with Windows or my DSL.
● When I post my column, sometimes I think how lucky I am to live in freedom, so I can criticize the government or say whatever else I want, so long as it isn’t libelous or doesn’t incite violence. When I have this thought, I am less likely to complain that I can’t think of something to write about. I can write about freedom.
● When we go out with friends, sometimes I think how lucky I am to have friends, despite my many faults. When I have this thought, I am less likely to complain about my friends’ imperfections and quirks.
● When I look up at the stars, sometimes I think how lucky I am to live in God’s unimaginably complex universe, to be able to see the stars, and to have someone next to me who also appreciates their beauty. When I have these thoughts, I am less likely to gripe about the minor problems I had that day.
● When I kiss my wife goodnight and tell her I love her, sometimes I think how lucky I will be to wake up next to her in the morning. When I have this thought, I am more likely to feel grateful when I do wake up.
This is hardly a complete list. I’m sure you could add many things for which you should be grateful. But the point is that God doesn’t need our gratitude – we do. We need to express it. Gratitude is the most effective way to increase happiness and decrease unhappiness.
Much evil is committed by people who are never grateful for anything, because they feel they are entitled to everything – and become enraged when they don’t get it. Ingrates make demanding spouses, selfish parents, whining children, bad neighbors, complaining workers, unappreciative bosses, heartless officials, and poor citizens. Ingratitude is unhealthy for society, and it is especially inappropriate in a nation blessed with freedom and abundance.
On Thanksgiving Day, and every day, express your gratitude for what you have, including the precious gift of gratitude itself.
Pilgrims going to church (note muskets)
I want to express my gratitude to Dennis Prager for emphasizing the value of gratitude. Like many insights, it seems obvious once someone else has thought of it.
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