Gratitude: A Virtue and a Discipline

Here in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November.

All across the country families and friends gather together around tables filled with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and green bean casserole. American football — either watched on television, or played in the backyard — is another staple, as is laughter, feelings of togetherness, and even the occasional argument.

But too often, the planning of the event and all the preparation leading up to it causes us to lose sight of what Thanksgiving is all about: gratitude.

I don’t know about you, but gratitude is something I’ve struggled with in 2016.

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Here in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November.

All across the country families and friends gather together around tables filled with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and green bean casserole. American football — either watched on television, or played in the backyard — is another staple, as is laughter, feelings of togetherness, and even the occasional argument.

But too often, the planning of the event and all the preparation leading up to it causes us to lose sight of what Thanksgiving is all about: gratitude.

I don’t know about you, but gratitude is something I’ve struggled with in 2016.

It isn’t that I’ve deliberately planned to be ungrateful. But, as the U.S. presidential election exposes deep societal fissures in this country, political decisions around the globe heighten tensions and the industry downturn affects so many of our Members, it’s very easy to lose sight of what’s going well. The bad news drowns out the good.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves,” wrote Viktor Frankl, neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, in his 1946 memoir “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

When everything is seemingly falling apart, it’s easy to get caught in a downward spiral of discontent that leads to despair. Yet, as Frankl points out, it’s up to us to do the hard work of changing, and this month I am working personally to cultivate a deeper sense of gratitude.

I don’t believe gratitude is mystical or magical; I’m not trying to create a religion out of gratitude. But I do believe that a practice of identifying the people, things and experiences in our lives for which we can be thankful can help us deal with life’s adversities, because it forces us to get out of our own heads — to stop being so self-centered.

Training in Gratitude

This doesn’t happen on its own. It takes practice. So each day this month my goal is to identify three things that I am thankful for. Perhaps it’s a simple thing, like a beautiful autumn day, a smile from a loved one, or a personal or professional accomplishment.

But this exercise shouldn’t be too simple. This is practice, after all, and I’m training my gratitude muscle. So, I am also looking at the failures in my life, at the hard times, the tragedies.

Can I be thankful for these experiences? Is that even possible? And what about the difficult people in my life? Is there a way to be thankful for them, too?

I’m feeling a bit anxious even as I type this. This exercise is going to make my head hurt, but I also expect it to change my outlook and perspective.

You may or may not celebrate Thanksgiving, but will you consider joining me this month in practicing a spirit of gratitude?

As you spend time with family and friends — with your community — sharing, laughing, crying; as you confront life’s joys and its disappointments; as you read the news and reflect on the many challenges we face on this planet, look for those things to be thankful for — especially the hard things.

My sense is that if we were able to give thanks in all circumstances, the world would be a markedly different place.

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