Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving

I have child and frequently struggle with how to teach him about gratitude and contentment. Frankly, it’s something I struggle with myself. So the Thanksgiving week carries with it that annual opportunity to teach them (and remind myself) about the things for which to be grateful. I don’t want the week to pass without having communicated with my child that Thanksgiving is much, much more than days off of school, lots of good food and a few football games on television.

It’s helpful to remember the origins of the holiday, so here’s a brief refresher course on Thanksgiving.

On September 6, 1620, a ship with just over 100 people on board left the shores of England en route to America. On board were Pilgrims—men, women and children in search of freedom from the religious persecution they had endured in Europe. Freedom they were willing to travel a world away to obtain.

However, that freedom came at a high price. Their cramped vessel sailed for two months across the Atlantic Ocean before reaching the shore of their new homeland. On their ship, the Mayflower, passengers had to endure wind-tossed seas and storms, scurvy and even death before sighting land.

Once ashore, the passengers and crew, many disease-ridden from the voyage, set about making a new home in a strange and unknown landscape. Having landed at Plymouth Rock (located in what would become known as Massachusetts) in November, it was not long before temperatures began to fall. Imagine facing that cold season having to build a colony and gather food with limited supplies, while you and/or many of your fellow settlers battled sickness and disease. By springtime, only half of the colonists had survived.

The Pilgrims' sacrifice was a high price to pay for the freedom they sought: thousands of miles away from civilization, harsh untamed country, dozens dying. All in support of a noble dream. And yet the Pilgrims were grateful.

As spring and summer rolled on the survivors were able plant crops with the help of local Indians and by fall, they had an abundance of food. They expressed that gratitude as a community and invited the Indians who had helped them to join in their three-day harvest feast and festival.

Fast forward to today.

I’m betting that if the Pilgrims who celebrated on that first Thanksgiving could see the dissatisfaction and frustration so often expressed at this time of year, despite the abundance we enjoy, they would truly be perplexed.

The Pilgrims had to struggle with how to meet their most basic human needs. They needed food, they needed shelter—they needed to survive the winter.

Here’s what I need to remind myself of—at a minimum, our basic human needs are being met. It’s likely that everyone reading this column knows where their next meal is coming from. It’s likely that none of us are particularly concerned about what the temperature will be outside when we go to bed tonight. And for most of us, our assets go way beyond food and shelter.

For example, we enjoy modern conveniences like dishwashers and microwaves. We drive comfortable cars. We get to choose from among an assortment of clothing what to wear each day.

And many of us will spend the holiday with family and friends gathered around us. Perhaps some more anticipated than others, but they are with us nonetheless.

Think about it. We have so much more than the Pilgrims did in that fall of 1621.

Ironically, many of the struggles we face in this modern life are directly related to all that we can enjoy. Our time and money get stretched because of an ever growing number of things to choose from. We often face self-imposed stress, particularly related to finances, because we buy bigger and better whether we can afford it or not.

Of course, it’s true that many of us face real-life problems like illness, strained relationships and others. And for some this time of year seems to amplify those things even more.

But we also have so much for which to be grateful.

I hope you’ll pardon the preachiness, but we need to slow down, give thanks, say thanks, and remember what we have—not what we don’t have.

I’m not pointing fingers because I’m in no position to do so. I am guilty of the very attitude I’ve described.

But all of us—and especially our children—will find life so much more enjoyable and meaningful when we learn the discipline of gratitude. (And it is a discipline, by the way. It does not come naturally.)

There’s a story to be told here—to our children and ourselves. The Pilgrims showed us how to be grateful for the simple things in life and to do so in the face of great sacrifice. They had so little, but were grateful in spite of it all. How can we who have so much not also be drawn to gratitude for all that we enjoy?

Every Month A Million and the Daily Dose Of Good

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