Gratitude is a feeling – that which we feel and believe. It might be real, we might be imagining it – but that doesn’t matter so much.
One person might be grateful for the circumstance of being alive one more day, of being spared from a disease or a falling bomb or the car crash they nearly got into. Some people will be grateful for a wonderful relationship they found or fell into – and others might express gratitude for the ones they dodged, the connections they didn’t make. We’ve probably all had some memories of what we are glad we missed or missed out on …
Mostly though, we are grateful for things, circumstances and people – friends, family, loved ones; but also those who’ve fixed a big problem, innovated to make our world better, our environment cleaner, our country more civil and our reality of government, commerce and organizations more transparent. These elements shift small amounts daily, almost always for the better, and we are collectively grateful for those.
And given the last three thanksgiving seasons – when our thanksgiving comes between the Jewish High Holidays and Christmas every year, it’s a season for people of many faiths holding celebrations rooted in ancient traditions around a bountiful harvest and survival, around passages through stages of life and seasons in the year, and celebrating our fellow inhabitants of this Earth rock we call home. I’m grateful for that.
This year, at thanksgiving – what are you grateful for?
American readers can answer that too, even though their t-day is a few weeks away – and in fairness, theirs is more of a retailer bonanza tied to pilgrim/indigenous false stories …
But I digress – back to being grateful.
The challenge is equating or conflating gratitude with self-satisfaction because these are different animals for sure.
Whether we examine how good/bad our backyard looks, whether we check our blood pressure or our bank balance – we sometimes struggle to be so ‘grateful,’ but we’re still here and living on, working on another day, another project, another year that culminates around many dining-tables and banquet halls. People ask, “What are you thankful for?”
I am grateful for the obvious – my family, my close friends, colleagues and neighbours are faring well in terms of health and happiness so far as I know. One friend, Tony, is very sad. His wife Molly has recovered from an illness and was discharged from hospital (Covid + complications), but she can no longer function at home. She is now living in a care facility for advancing dementia. That’s horrid for Tony and their family, and sad for me to know Molly is now only recognizing Tony intermittently. With Tony’s permission, I’ve shared that news with friends who, like me, are friends and fans of Molly. Knowing she was already in the early stages of this inevitable path, we had a ‘retirement event for her’ six years ago – Sheila recorded it for us, so Molly could watch it over and over to see so many friends speak of how thankful they are for knowing her and all she has done for our Calgary Toastmasters family.
So, where do we each look for things we are thankful for, and are we expressing that gratitude to those we appreciate?
Are our thanks directed toward what we’ve done or what we will have the opportunity to do – not for opportunities we’ve missed, but for the ones still ahead of us?
Often, when we are frustrated by some event or person messing with our day, we need ask ourselves, “Will this be important a year from now?” Most often, it won’t be. We’ll probably not remember …
But as we reflect on what we are thankful for today, let’s have some vision too – explore what we’ll be thankful for next year; who will benefit from our gratitude then? My point is not that we should polish our crystal ball, but to realize not everyone will be happy and well a year from now – and some people in our lives might be gone …
Life is short or long – not as a fact, but as a comparison to something else. Because what makes lives worthwhile generates our happiness isn’t always other people, material things, or lifestyle.
Life seems to either feel full or empty – not like a gas tank, but like a heart that beats – thumping away without interruption since birth to keep us alive, a sign of every element of perseverance through work and play. Not like a full house or an empty room, but having our house-in-order whilst full of hopes, plans, dreams, and goals. And purpose.
This past year has been extraordinary for me in many ways. The year ahead is a super-highway of opportunities to capitalize on so many opportunities to do worthy work, have happy experiences and make the world, as I see it, better. I don’t expect to build or repair bridges with steel or an arc-welder – but with handshakes, apologies, amends, repaying debts, and fixing things!
A year from now, I’ll be older, but not much. I’ll be better, much better, as a human – and my relationship with everyone I reach by my writing, everyone I reach out to directly, will be better too. Few relationships can be ideal, but we can work on making them better.
I’m grateful and full of thanks. I wish you a very happy thanksgiving.
I love Edgar Doctorow’s comment on writing: It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
I think the same is true of living and travelling through our next year – we can only see one day and one night at a time, but we can travel all the way to next thanksgiving that away.