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Feeling thankful often requires work
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Thanksgiving is Thursday. It always falls on the fourth Thursday in November. It probably goes against human nature, however, we should make every day a day of thankfulness.

Before you dismiss this as an obligatory column of seasonal sentiments that is pure rubbish, try to follow me where I'm going.

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 suffering. They are out of work, out of money, out of food, out of hope.

There are others who are right in the middle of illness and family crisis. The future is uncertain and scary. Because my wife is seriously ill, I've been recently acquainted with a whole hospital floor of people who were minding their own business when, bam, a serious blood disease that they didn't ask for ripped them out of their world and dropped them right into a scary world of IVs, doctors who poke and prod and test results that grip them with fear. To make matters, I periodically hear the sobering and urgent PA calls of "Code Blue ...." followed by the room number that serves as a reminder that disease is claiming someone.

Just being healthy should be reason enough to be thankful. But being grateful is probably no easy task for any of us. Psychologist 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.

We tend to dwell on all 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 an average house in an average neighborhood or cancer, who would take the latter? My point? 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.

For example, if I grumble that I don't live in the prettiest of neighborhoods, why can't I be grateful that I am not of the destitute living in shanties made of garage doors, discarded plywood, sheets of tin and cardboard in some of the "colonies" I visited in a 2005 Mexico mission trip? And to think many of those people actually appeared quite happy.

Consider that the poorest of the poor in America have it far better than the poorest of a Third World nation where

children rummage through the dump heaps to find food and items to sell.

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail that put this concept in practical examples. 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 becasue it means I am al\ive.

"And finally, for too much

e-mail because it mean I have friends who are thinking of


"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.