If Thomas Jefferson could be faulted for one thing in composing the Declaration of Independence, it might be his inclusion of the words “the pursuit of happiness” in the text.
Happiness is a vapor that cannot be grasped; a temporary feeling based on transitory circumstances akin to the euphoria of a full-on sugar rush. Happiness is good for a time, but it cannot last. Life invariably intervenes.
So many seem so unthankful about so much these days. Turn on the TV or read a newspaper and you will find complainers. Democrats complain about Republicans and the reverse. The poor complain about the rich and the rich complain that they are being taxed too much. Citizens complain about illegal immigrants. Whites complain about people of color and people of color complain right back.
This week in Ferguson, Missouri, we saw lots of people complaining about the police and alleged injustice while storeowners whose businesses were destroyed legitimately complained about the rioters.
There’s an old Southern gospel song whose title other writers have used with different lyrics, but the one I like best is the one that encourages people to “have an attitude of gratitude.”
At Thanksgiving, those of us who believe in God thank Him for His many blessings. These include food to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over our heads, good health for those fortunate enough to have it and good doctors for those who don’t, a job for those who have one and the chance to find employment for those who don’t (and unemployment insurance to bridge the gap between jobs).
We aren’t grateful enough for what we have. Instead of complaining about what we don’t have, try thanking someone for what you do have.
Thank a soldier for your freedom, even the freedom to complain about your political leaders without fear of being arrested, as is the case in many countries.
Find something good to say about another person and thank them for it.
Thank your parents, if they are living, no matter how bad your upbringing may have been. They gave you the gift of life, what you make of it is up to you.
Oprah Winfrey sometimes comes up with something worth quoting. I found this gem through a Google search: “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
Have you noticed in the past several years how public storage units have sprung up all over the country? Think about this: In our very large houses we don’t have enough room to store all of the stuff we’ve accumulated, so we rent other places to put it.
Advertisers say acquiring stuff will make us happy. Obviously not, or we would be happy most of the time because most of us have more stuff than our parents and certainly our grandparents ever had, or ever needed.
Previous generations may not have had a lot of material things, but they had something we appear to lack — contentment. To be content is better than being happy. Contentment is akin to satisfaction. Maybe the reason Mick Jagger couldn’t get any satisfaction was because he was looking for it in the wrong place.
Author A.J. Jacobs says, “I’ve started to look at life differently. When you’re thanking God for every little joy — every meal, every time you wake up, every time you take a sip of water — you can’t help but be more thankful for life itself, for the unlikely and miraculous fact that you exist at all.”
Mr. Jacobs has an attitude of gratitude. Try it and see what difference it makes in you and in others. If you do, you might have a happy — strike that — a contented Thanksgiving.
Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America". Readers may email Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.