I love Thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday – quintessentially American, and celebrated nearly universally across what are often divides of age, ethnicity, religious background, income and region. Somehow Thanksgiving always renews my love of country and faith in its future.
This year, it also got me thinking about being truly thankful for good things, large and small, that surround all of us. It is easy, of course, to get caught up in the day to day, and to focus more on the annoyances and challenges each of us faces instead of on the joy or beauty. Maybe it is even basic human nature to do so. But a recent piece in the New York Times made a pretty compelling case that gratitude is a path to happiness. Conscious efforts directed at appreciating the good make us feel better, so that we can, in a sense, train ourselves to be happier.
I think my mother, who was visiting with us for the holiday, figured this out without any of the neurocognitive evidence to guide her. She is in her mid-80’s and has lived alone since my father died almost 7 years ago. I worry about her, in part, because her life seems so drab. She is frail and doesn’t drive anymore, which is good for public safety, but leaves her with limited access to diversions. In addition, she has become quite hard of hearing, so she can’t enjoy concerts, theater or movies. Her circle of local friends and family is small and getting smaller as her contemporaries fall to death and disability. It frankly all seems rather depressing to me, and yet she is happier now than she has been in years. Why? At least in part because she seems to practice deliberate gratitude
We were talking about her circumstances and she told me that she starts and ends each day with a moment of thanksgiving. She expresses gratitude for having lived another day, and for the love she feels for her children and grandchildren. It is apparent that this practice does more than sustain her, it nourishes her emotionally.
I wasn’t really expecting to learn something important from my mother over Thanksgiving, but I did.