Thanksgiving, I’m afraid, has too often had a lot more to do with satiation than with appreciation. As kids we would gorge on Mom’s fruit salad. The turkey and potatoes just finished the job of stuffing ourselves. The resulting discomfort made it difficult to feel anything positive, much less gratitude.
But over the years she stressed to us kids the value of gratitude. Eventually we all got it… Thanksgiving isn’t about over-eating; it’s a particularly important and meaningful holiday. Gratitude is an attitude, as well as a practice. As long as we feel grateful, we are much less apt to take things for granted. It also promotes humility… the opposite of feeling entitled. This is fundamental to a positive outlook, and is so important to wellbeing we should look around for things for which to give thanks. Fortunately there is no lack of stuff. Every day ought to be a Thanksgiving. This November holiday is a fitting time to renew our sense of gratitude. Make a daily practice of writing down things for which to be grateful. But be forewarned… this could become a large undertaking. Examples are literally everywhere. Here are just a couple…
A great example is to be found underfoot. It’s been called the largest and least known treasure trove of life on Earth, containing a whole constellation of organisms that sustain life: beetles, ants, termites, bacteria, fungi, worms, etc. I’m grateful for soil. We are completely dependent on it, so we shouldn’t treat it like dirt. We allow it to wash and blow away, use it as a dump, pave over it, and kill it with chemicals. If we could treat it with a little more respect, both we and soil would be a whole lot better off. There are experiments all over the world right now that show increases in productivity as soil is brought back to life in a process called “organic farming.”
Some of us are indeed grateful for the animals which have partnered with us and with our ancestors for many thousands of years. I’m thinking of dogs and horses in particular. There’s something about the connections with these amazing critters that touches us very deeply. My treasures do not clink together or glitter. They gleam in the sun and neigh in the night” (Old Arab Proverb). “Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” (Mark Twain) “To err is human, to forgive canine.” (unknown)
Journalism is deserving of gratitude. After all, independent, objective, accurate, information is the foundation of democracy. Only a well-informed public can make rational educated decisions. But financial interests have long been busy chipping away at the independence of mainstream news media. Public TV and radio need your financial support, in order to remain a bastion of journalistic independence and objectivity.
How about something totally different? Chances are, this Thanksgiving, very few people will join me in giving thanks for a very large and destructive asteroid. But the fact is, without a colossal collision with an errant asteroid, we most certainly would not be here. It happened some 65 million years ago. Dinosaurs at that time had populated this amazing planet for well over 200 million years and had been remarkably successful, adaptable, cunning, and tenacious. But when a mountain sized asteroid crashed near the Yucatan peninsula, it filled the atmosphere with debris and instantly changed the climate so much that it made Earth uninhabitable for a whole host of species, both on land and in the oceans. Except for birds, dinosaurs completely disappeared. In the absence of rapacious reptiles, a bunch of small surviving animals were poised to take full advantage of the newly vacated landscape. These newly emerging critters are what we now call mammals. They eventually gave rise to a plethora of species… including us. Therefore, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to a planetary catastrophe.
Considering the volatile mix of politics and religion in places like Iran and Afghanistan, I’m particularly grateful for the wall of separation between church and state which is included in the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Among our fundamental rights is freedom.
We ought to be thankful that Charles Darwin devoted his considerable talents to interpreting the awesome story of life on Earth. He gave us not only modern biology, but a connection to the land, and demonstrated that we are of this Earth, not merely on it. His ground-breaking theory of evolution represents one of the greatest contributions to modern science.
There is a current challenge… we may have an opportunity to provide future generations with a reason to express gratitude. Right now, like the above ancient asteroid, we are filling the atmosphere with debris and in a very short time span, changing the climate so much that it stands to make Earth uninhabitable for a wide range of species, both on land and in the oceans. Unless we change our ways, we are becoming a “human asteroid” and could cause countless extinctions.
Like kids at Thanksgiving, too many of us are gorging on wealth and possessions with no regard for the consequences or the future. Maybe those who see tax cuts as a simple solution just don’t understand the problem: what we’re doing to our planet. Satiation is overshadowing appreciation. But we can begin to express real gratitude and humility for our gift of life here and now, by being less needy. Also, hold politicians responsible for environmental stewardship. For a how-to guide, check out these excellent web sites of organizations dedicated to restoring environmental health: 350.org, nrdc.org, and zpg.org.
“There is a built-in sense of indebtedness in the consciousness of man, an awareness of owing gratitude, or being called upon at certain moments to reciprocate, to answer, to live in a way which is compatible with the grandeur and mystery of living.”— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel