Thankfulness and Happiness when Times Are Bleak



Can thankfulness and happiness be interrelated? Studies have shown that people that are thankful often times are happier than those who are not.

This week, people across the United States are celebrating Thanksgiving, which was made an official holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 at the height of the Civil War. In his initial proclamation, it was clear that the focus was on thankfulness to our Creator for the blessings of the time.

In the middle of the Civil War, it might have seemed hard to find many things to be thankful for. Nearly 700,000 soldiers lost their lives in the war, not to mention those who were wounded. Giving thanks when a loved one has been killed or wounded must have been hard for these early observers of Thanksgiving.

Today, we are living in a different time. Thanksgiving has become more about family, football and a big turkey dinner — all good things. It won’t surprise my regular readers, but I think that we might be missing something about the holiday.

Another way that we are different today is that we now have higher expectations. That’s to be expected. Our so-called standard of living is much, much higher now than in the 1800s.

And, it’s only human to want more. There’s nothing wrong with striving to accomplish and acquire more. If we didn’t do that, we’d never advance, either as individuals or as a society as a whole.

But it can be dangerous to look at the possessions or positions that others have and want them for ourselves. Envy has a way of slipping up on us, often without us realizing it.

Here’s the danger: Science (and common sense) tells us that we can’t hold two opposing views at the same time. That means that it’s impossible to focus on things you don’t have and be thankful for the things you do have at the same time. So focus on what you have and even on what you don’t.

Some of the saddest people I know spend much of their time envying others and thinking about the things that they don’t have. Social media and news tend to feed these thoughts. Often that sadness evolves into anger and depression.

That’s not to say that many people don’t have unmet needs: food, clothing, housing — the essentials. We all want and need those things. In fact, it’s up to those of us who have an abundance to share with those in need.

So what does real thankfulness look like? Have you ever had someone say ‘thanks’ to you but you know that they were just being polite and weren’t really thanking you for anything? A quick but meaningless expression of gratitude.

How does all this apply to you and me? First, if we find ourselves dealing with sadness and anger, it might be a good idea to see if we’re envious of others. It’s one thing to want life’s basic needs. That’s healthy. But, if we’re not wanting life’s basics, we might be better off being thankful for the blessings we do have.

We might also want to go beyond the football turkey-fest Thanksgiving. One way to demonstrate your true thankfulness is to help people in need. Not only will you bless someone else, but you’ll be reminded of the things that you do have.

It’s easy to do. If you have a friend or neighbor who lost their job this year, why not buy them a bag of groceries or a gift card so they can buy their own? Don’t want to embarrass them? Do it anonymously.

People, especially in Mexico City, have been hard stricken by the covid-19 pandemic and its economic consequences. Next time you step into a market, very likely you will encounter somebody begging. Why not offer to buy them food instead of giving them a few pesos?

Yesterday, a woman with four children from an infant in her rebozo to a boy age 10, was struggling to pay for tortillas, so I offered to buy her and her children food: They chose eggs, canned beans, tortillas and marshmallows, and I  suggested a roasted chicken.

The look of disbelief and surprise in their eyes was indescribable, but the glow on their faces was heartwarming.

When your heart is open, everything becomes love and gratitude, and that is what Thanksgiving is really all about.

…Nov. 26, 2020

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