My job requires me to follow all the awful things happening in the world; after all, that’s what makes up the news cycle. War and death and poverty and injustice (okay, and a few cat videos) fill my computer screen from the moment I wake until I go to bed. By the fourth day of the work week, it’s easy to cycle between outrage and despair.
Many on all sides succumb to this emotional low road, which is why there’s so much anger about failed politicians, terrible policies, and broken promises. Our grandparents would yell at the newspaper, our parents at the TV, and now we vent on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube, amplifying the misery. In the past few years, we’ve seen mobs shutting down freeways and burning down neighborhoods while students at even the most exclusive universities screech about the raw deal they got in life.
A couple of weeks back, shouty children at Yale, Mizzou, and Dartmouth were furious about the terrorism in Paris. Not so much at the monsters who gunned down diners and music lovers, but at the rest of us for honoring the victims. Why should the murder of 130 take the spotlight off the ill-defined “structural oppression” of Ivy League millennials?
Too often, modern America has replaced virtue with victimhood, and the nation is poorer for it. Granted, the US remains one of the wealthiest nations in the history of mankind, but we’ve trained a generation not to recognize this obvious fact. Even to mention the manifold (and nearly miraculous) blessings of American life is a form of hate speech to the campus progressive.
In a far meaner age, Cicero said that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” An attitude of thankfulness is a choice that is free to everyone — even those plagued with an education at an elite university. While it may be easier in the short term to whine, it makes for a downright miserable life — not only for oneself, but also for the dwindling number of people who surround the complainer.
This Thanksgiving, and in the days to follow, choose gratitude. Be thankful for the nation, for your life, for those whom you love and those who love you, flaws and all. Like a muscle, you can strengthen this virtue with regular exercise. Writing in the New York Times, Arthur Brooks shares his advice on cultivating gratitude:
There are concrete strategies that each of us can adopt. First, start with “interior gratitude,” the practice of giving thanks privately. Having a job that involves giving frequent speeches — not always to friendly audiences — I have tried to adopt the mantra in my own work of being grateful to the people who come to see me.
Next, move to “exterior gratitude,” which focuses on public expression. The psychologist Martin Seligman, father of the field known as “positive psychology,” gives some practical suggestions on how to do this. In his best seller “Authentic Happiness,” he recommends that readers systematically express gratitude in letters to loved ones and colleagues. A disciplined way to put this into practice is to make it as routine as morning coffee. Write two short emails each morning to friends, family or colleagues, thanking them for what they do.
Finally, be grateful for useless things. It is relatively easy to be thankful for the most important and obvious parts of life — a happy marriage, healthy kids or living in America. But truly happy people find ways to give thanks for the little, insignificant trifles.
Seneca wrote that we even should be thankful for the most “fleeting and slippery possession” of all — the time we have left on earth. “Such is the great foolishness of mortals, that they allow the least important, cheapest, and easily replaceable objects to be charged to their accounts after they have received them,” the Roman Stoic said. “But they never consider themselves to be in debt when they have received time; and yet this is the one thing that even a grateful recipient can never repay.”
None of us know if we have a day left or a century, but we should choose to spend each minute in gratitude. So on this uniquely American holiday, choose to be thankful — genuinely thankful — for all you’ve been given. But more importantly, choose to be thankful on Friday as well. And on Saturday and on Sunday.
Every day should be Thanksgiving. It only takes the choice to make it so.