I often wonder what was going on in Lincoln's mind when he decided
to establish a national day of thanksgiving. Following the bloody,
utterly unimaginable tragedy of the Civil War, he made
this unique proclamation. He was no stranger to grief, heartache
and disappointment, both personally and in his duties of state.
He battled his whole life with clinical depression. Combined
with his tragic family situation and depression, his daily schedule
was filled with sad meetings of mothers and wives of those fallen
in this achingly long national trauma. Just how could or should
a nation now pause to give thanks? And what possessed a man who
was prone to depression to see the value of gratitude?
no trite exercise but rather a powerful reminder to a ravished
nation that there was hope and a future. The nation came together
to heal and to give thanks that now, yes now, it was time to forgive,
bury the dead, put behind the past and reach out in gratefulness
to a new day.
Gratefulness and thanksgiving are the lubricants
of a good life, a life of meaning. Increasingly, I divide people
on the basis of their ability to be or not be grateful despite
any heartache or setback. All of us have challenges.
moment is a time of testing for us all. Yet,
we have so much for which we need to celebrate. Perhaps not in
any exuberant manner but quietly at the core of who we are. To
look within and ponder: What is it for which I truly can give thanks
this time of year?
Start with smallish things: you are alive, your
children are making strides, you and your spouse argue less, and
Gratitude is a 'good habit' and likewise, ingratitude
is a bad habit. Remember when your kids were young? Ah yes, our
constant lament: 'stop whining!’ Well, we too should
stop complaining as well.
So what, in a practical sense, can one
do to stoke the flames that create a different mindset and perspective?
I would suggest a simple exercise. Several days a week, write down
a few things for which you personally are thankful. These should
be smallish to start out with: a cup of java, ability to have options
in your life, a conversation with your child, etc, etc. There are
so many things that are gifts awaiting our acceptance.
The bad stuff
is quite easy to recall. We don't have to make a list of the things
we are worrying over. Right? They are
constant companions. The good stuff requires focus and attention.
Robert Bellah urges the development of these traits or "habits
of the heart."
I love Thanksgiving and Christmas. One of the
reasons is that my elder friend, 86-year-old English bachelor Dr.
Donald Drew, spends close to a month with us each year. He is a
remarkable man and specimen. He walks an hour each day, rain or
shine. But more importantly, Donald is a truly grateful man. He is a scholar
of English literature. (Even though he attended Cambridge I still
love him.) He is a constant flow of thoughtful quotations and positive
words of inspiration and hope. He recently sent me one such word
of perspective from the Welsh poet W.H. Davies:
is this life if, full of care,
have no time to stand and stare."
Taking the time to be still and
thankful. Important yet increasingly difficult to execute in these
For dear Donald, a robust faith keeps all suffering
and pain in balance. He likes to quote George Herbert:
in God's presence night and day
he never takes his face away."
So our challenge is to see the good
despite the darkness around. Remember, it's a habit to cultivate.
remarkable Helen Keller who accomplished so much yet was blind
from birth had the right point of view:
is mostly a superstition. Life
either a daring adventure, or it is
Thomas Jefferson is said to have given the following
toast at Monticello one cold winter evening: "We have one life, make it
extraordinary." My friends, gratefulness just might be the
key to such a life.