Moments ago as this is written I kissed my wife and children goodbye, then looked out upon a tangerine, turquoise and cottony sky, so softly glowing, and silently sent up a word of thanks.
It's something I try to do most mornings, in keeping with a philosophy best expressed by Garrison Keillor, the wry, melancholy voice that caresses the airwaves at 6 p.m. each Saturday on public radio's "A Prairie Home Companion." I quoted Keillor in this space one year ago more or less, for it was he who said, in passing, "Giving thanks is the key to happiness."
As I wrote then, I don't know any truer words on the subject of gratitude. It's a way of choosing hope over despair, faith over cynicism, generosity over selfishness. And so I repeat the words in honor of this annual holiday devoted to thanks--yesterday as you read this, tomorrow as it is written--"Giving thanks is the key to happiness."
I hope you had plenty of gratitude to pass around yesterday, with some left over for today and every morning, because it's true, if trite. To take stock of your life by starting with your misfortunes is a sucker's game. There's no end to the misery you can accumulate. It's best to concentrate on the good things and build on them.
I could be wrong, but I believe the happiest people I know feel blessed from time to time, rather than merely lucky. Blessed and lucky are not mutually exclusive attitudes, but they represent different approaches to life and I have a sneaking suspicion that we who feel blessed or thankful are a little more fulfilled than those who feel merely fortunate or lucky. Of the two, I prefer blessed.
This wasn't always the case. As a very young man, I decided that since you couldn't prove the existence of a creator or great provider, it made no sense to believe in one. I still recognize that as a defensible--if pessimistic--position and I have no quarrel with the atheists and agnostics among us who are charitable and law-abiding citizens. To each his own, as I say, I've been there.
I remember more than once sitting down to imbibe my portion of the annual sacrificial bird with all the trimmings, when someone would say, "Let's take a moment to give thanks," or, "Let's go around the room and tell something we're thankful for," and I would indulge a little slight-of-hand. I'd come up with something I was thankful for, but then I'd say to myself--well, I'm at least LUCKY in that regard. Strangely, that secret transubstantiation left me feeling a bit empty no matter how much turkey I ate.
A few years later, along about the time my first child entered the world, I began to believe I wasn't simply lucky, I was blessed by some force or consciousness I sensed among the wondrous variety of life. It took several more years and two more children to admit it to myself and start acknowledging it, most mornings as the first act of my day, but there it is. Blessedness had entered my vocabulary and my world.
Of course, I can't prove I'm blessed. Could be I've mistaken being lucky for being blessed. I won't quibble, except to say, no one can prove I haven't been the recipient of much good grace, and it's a notion I adore, which brings me to the final irony in this little meditation.
I realize there are those reading this now who say, "Yeah, it's easy for you to say start every day with thanksgiving. You have good health, people who love you, a decent job, but what about me?"
Maybe you're bed-ridden, maybe you've been betrayed, could be you're clinically depressed. I think of something attributed to Abe Lincoln, a man who suffered what we'd call clinical depression, cataclysms, personal tragedies and incredible stress. Abe said, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."
I realize the inadequacy of that remark even as I quote it. I know how my own attitude turns south whenever I'm ailing physically or feeling betrayed by a friend.
Still, I believe in those times above all an attitude of gratitude is to be envied, better yet, nurtured, because in such moments I realize the sad truth that good luck eventually runs out, blessings never quite do for those practiced at counting them.
Here's wishing you much grace and many thanks for reading.