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Reflections on the giving of thanks

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By Janny Wilcke

Dennis Prager, a well-known author and radio talk-show host, has written that gratitude is the key to happiness. Here is how he has put it:

“There is a ‘secret to happiness’ and it is gratitude. All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that it is being unhappy that leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that it is complaining that leads to people becoming unhappy. Become grateful and you will become a much happier person.”

Prager’s viewpoint is that a constant attitude of thanksgiving promotes an optimistic and happy attitude about life, and I feel confident that he is right.

Many years ago, my husband and I used to attend a small church in a village near our home. One Sunday morning just before Thanksgiving, our minister gave a sermon he titled, “There’ll be no Thanksgiving this year.” His point was that Americans should not give thanks to God for abundance because to do so implies that we were chosen for riches while those starving in other parts of the world must have been intentionally neglected by God. The minister wanted us to be more humble, and caring.

While that was 40 years ago, I shall never forget Mrs. Delaney, an older woman who was expecting a traditional warm and comfortable Thanksgiving sermon, slamming her hymnal on the pew, loudly interrupting the minister for what she considered his ‘own theories,’ and then marching out of church in protest. It was the most awkward moment imaginable, and I stared hard at my feet for the rest of the sermon.

The trouble with his message – or at least with his title – was that whether or not we believe that our fortunes are divinely bestowed, to fail to feel thankful is an omission that reflects on the view we hold of our lives. To acknowledge the good in our lives is to recognize the goodness of life. And to recognize the goodness of life is a key to hope and optimism. In essence, we should seek to celebrate thanksgiving every day. I do agree with Prager that those who tend to do this really are the happiest.

This year our three daughters and their families will share Thanksgiving with us at our house. Each of the girls will bring a dish. With seven grandchildren, there will be almost as many kids present as adults. After dinner, we will clear the dishes away, the adults will team up with the older children, and we will play Pictionary. This has become a tradition and I’m so grateful for it … grateful, really, for it all.

Grateful that our daughters and their families want to share their holiday with us; grateful that we have seven healthy grandchildren; grateful that our daughters, each one so different, respect each other’s views and genuinely love each other; grateful for two wonderful sons-in-law; grateful that our family is easygoing so I’m not pressured to make Thanksgiving ‘perfect’ — nearly impossible in any case.

Finally, I am also grateful that my dear husband has, for roughly forty years, been faithfully cooking the turkey to save me the job of fussing with it. I don’t take his gesture for granted; it is something for which I’m really grateful.