Is it cheesy to ask you what you're thankful for?
Part of me feels manipulated by the holidays. Well, holidays like Mother's Day and Valentine's Day that guilt you into actions that should be a part of everyday routine. I mean, shouldn't we all be thankful and grateful for what we have? Why do we need a day to prompt us to give thanks?
I'm not poo-pooing the tradition of Thanksgiving, which is tomorrow. I'm rejecting the idea that a holiday should give us pause to be thankful.
In no way have I "arrived" and set up my tent in Camp Contentment. At least not every day. Admittedly it's hard to feel thankful during times when things are rough. Or quite honestly, feeling thankful even when things are good.
I know millions of Americans are still suffering. They are out of work, out of money, out of food, out of hope and some are out of a home and sleeping in the November cold under bridges or in their cars.
There are others who are right in the middle of illness and family crisis. The future is uncertain and scary. Just being healthy should be reason enough to be thankful. Just being in America where it is still relatively safe to live, is a blessing for sure.
Psychologists Jeff Larsen of Texas Tech University and Amie McKibban of Wichita State University published the results of a study in Psychological Science finding that people can become accustomed to what they have, appreciate their possessions less as the novelty wears off, and derive less happiness from them with the passing of time. However, they also found that it's possible to continue to want the things you have, and that doing so can, in fact, bring greater happiness. In short, they proved that happiness is both wanting what you have and having what you want.
Robert Emmons, a U.C. Davis psychology professor has found that those who adopt an "attitude of gratitude" as a permanent state of mind experience many health benefits. They tend to cope better with stress, feel happier and more optimistic and have stronger immune systems.
We tend to dwell on the disappointing things and make them the focus over the good things. We tend to take good health for granted and focus instead on things that really should matter less. I mean, given a choice between being content in driving a Dodge Neon versus a Dodge Viper or having cancer, who would take the latter? My point that if you stop and consider all the ways life could be worse -- indeed far worse -- our present circumstances are quite worthy of thanksgiving. It's just all a matter of where your heart is.
I have plenty for which to be thankful. I moved to a beautiful neighborhood that is far nicer than the one I just spent 28 years of my life in. I have a beautiful and sweet girlfriend who I love spending time with and all the new people she has brought into my life. Knee pain that was hindering my running activities is no longer plaguing me. I have a new grandson added to all the beautiful grandchildren I am gathering. My children are healthy and productive. I have a job which allows me a great degree of creativity. I'm glad I live in America and I'm especially glad that 2016 is Barack Obama's last year in the White House. (Sorry, I just had to make this political).
If you make a list, you're likely to see there is more good than bad in your life.
A friend of mine, Jack Hunter of Hughson, sent me an e-mail years ago that really made me think. It was a simple message that really put my mouth in check when I was about to utter some complaint.
His email read:
"I am thankful for:
"... the wife who says it's hot dogs tonight, because she is home with me, and not out with someone else.
"... the husband who is on the sofa being a couch potato, because he is home with me and not out at the bars.
"... the teenager who is complaining about doing dishes because it means she is at home not on the streets.
"... taxes I pay because it means I am employed.
"... the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.
"... the clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have enough to eat.
"... the shadow that watches me work because it means I am out in the sunshine.
"... the lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home.
"... all the complaining I hear about the government because it means we have freedom of speech.
"... the parking spot I find at the far end of the parking lot because it means I am capable of walking and I have been blessed with transportation.
"... my heating bill because it means I am warm.
"... the lady behind me in church who sings off key because it means I can hear.
"... the pile of laundry and ironing because it means I have clothes to wear.
"... weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day because it means I have been capable of working hard.
"... the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours because it means I am alive.
"And finally, for too much e-mail because it mean I have friends who are thinking of me.
"Live well, laugh often, and love with all of your heart!"
The email barely sunk in when I was tempted to grumble about having to retype his email for this column -- because it was all in caps -- before stopping to I remember, hey, re-typing his email means I have all the fingers on both my hands.
The beauty of the message is that it trains us to look for the positive behind every negative.
I realize that someone who may have lost their house may have felt the sting of some elements of Jack's e-mail.
But, again, the concept is to find some blessing behind the very thing we're bitter about.
Somehow doing this cancels or softens the negative we're dwelling on.
I realize we may have to buck this societal thing that pushes us find happiness in purchases and things rather than the simple things like the beauty of colorful falling leaves, or the hug of a loved one. It may even seem like an outmoded concept - almost pilgrim like - to live a life of being thankful. More people seem jazzed about plunging into the shopping season on Black Friday than they seem to be about acknowledging their attitude of thankfulness, belief in God or not. But as psychologists point out, people who live by the hallmark of thankfulness tend to be happier people. And I might add that a British study indicated that happy people tend to live 35 percent lower risk of dying than the grumblers. That's not a bad combination: a long, happy life.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org