Thanksgiving Day is sure to make us bigger, but it can also make us better.
Big meals, football fever, and long hours on the road may get the best of us in the battle of the bulge, but with a little effort we can come back winners from the holiday weekend in the more important battle for inner beauty.
In the coming days, we will run into many nice reminders of the Thanksgiving Story. A Google search for “1621” and “Plymouth Rock” will tell the happy story of a much-needed harvest. It will remind us of the 91 Indians who helped the Pilgrims survive hunger and cold.
But if our Thanksgiving Day is only about remembrance, we will have missed the Mayflower. We will have missed an opportunity to cultivate the beautiful virtue of gratitude.
Have you ever met a person who stands out for being grateful? Many of us have learned to say “thank you” at all the right times, but rare and precious are the human gems who think and judge with a grateful heart. The ones I know radiate joy. They are serene. They are content. And they are all of that because they are humble.
We could explain their virtue by calling it natural goodness — we all know bubbly personalities, after all.
But the good news for the rest of us — the non-bubbly — is that gratitude is not just a feeling. It’s deeper and it transcends temperament and personality. The habitually grateful soul approaches life itself as an undeserved and precious gift.
While our natural tendency is to use our unfulfilled desires as the reference point for satisfaction, the grateful person determines the value of his own fortune in relation to those in greater need. He continually tips his hat to the Giver, and his hand and heart to those who ask, and to those who don’t.
It would seem affluence, health, or general success would be enough to make us grateful. We know that’s not so. Grateful people are sometimes poor, sometimes rich, sometimes healthy, and sometimes sick — but they are always humble.
Humble, grateful people have the same problems as the rest of us, but their reference point for justice is not themselves. They are free from self-centered thinking, and free from the weight of their self-importance, they turn first to God and others, and they say “thank you,” always, and from the heart.
God bless, Father Jonathan
P.S. I think cultivating a virtue like gratitude takes practice. We have to form a habit of refocusing our attention away from ourselves and on to others. One way to do this is to say what you are grateful for. Do you want to tell me? On Friday, I’ll post some of your responses. Also, if you have any good family traditions that help you live better on Thanksgiving Day, I would love to hear them, and share them!