If your family comes together each Thanksgiving to share good food and happy memories, you are blessed. Unfortunately, some family gatherings are stressful because of long-held grudges and lack of forgiveness. But I don’t want to focus on just Thanksgiving Day itself, but being thankful every day as a basic virtue that can brighten our lives.
I tend to be a pretty happy guy. People tell me that I smile a lot. That comes as second nature to me because I count among my blessings a loving family and my fulfilling life as a Franciscan. I know that others carry many crosses and I listen to their stories with compassion. But I’m convinced that being thankful can brighten a dark day.
Scientists have done research that shows grateful people sleep better, are healthier, happier, less depressed, less stressed, and have more positive ways of coping with difficulties.
Benedictine David Steindl-Rast writes about the practice of gratitude as a way of healing oneself and society. He takes an active role in “Gratefulness: Network for Grateful Living,” an interactive, online forum in which thousands from many countries participate. He sees gratitude as a remedy for the exploitation, oppression, and violence that plague our society. Thankfulness, he says, is also the heart of prayer.
The Love of God
Faith provides us with powerful reasons to be grateful. We recognize the Giver of all good things and put our trust in God who loves us.
“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything he has given us—and he has given us everything,” Thomas Merton writes. “Every breath we draw is a gift of his love, every moment of existence is a grace. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”
When we are mired in crisis, a spirit of gratitude can help us. It can prompt us to go deeper to the foundation on which can stand.
Toward the end of his life, St. Francis was in pain from the wounds in his body. He was going blind. But his faith in God’s presence was real, and from his heart he sang a hymn of thanks: “Praise be my Lord for Brother Sun, Sister Moon and the stars, Sister Water, Brother Fire, our Sister Mother Earth. . . . Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks.”