Keeping a Good Thanksgiving: Part 5

Part 5: What You Feel When You are Blessed

I want to now reflect on gratitude and giving thanks. Thanksgiving requires people, food, and the practice – the discipline – of gratitude.

When I was a child I had to be forced to say “thank you.” The situation was usually this: a birthday card arrived from my grandmother and, as always, there were a few dollars, sometimes a five dollar bill, tucked inside. I loved it, counted on it, relished it. But I had to be coerced to say “thank you.” “Have you called your Grandmother yet? Have you thanked her?” “No, but I will – I promise.” For days, it would go on: “Have you called her?” “No, but I will – I promise.” Finally, my mother would take me by the scruff of the neck, march me to the telephone, sit me down, put the receiver in my hand, dial Grandma’s number and say “Now do it!”

I was delighted to find a similar vignette in a wonderful little book by Will Schwable, The End of Your Life Book Club. Schwable’s mother was dying and as they spent hours and days in the hospital waiting rooms they found themselves talking about books and decided to read books together as long as they could.

Schwable remembers three great aunts who were very fastidious and socially proper and expected – demanded – thank you notes.

“When they dropped a present in the mail, your thank you should essentially bounce back out of the mailbox to them. If it didn’t, the whole family, cousins and second cousins and all knew about your lack of gratitude.

“The notes could not be perfunctory either. You had to put real elbow grease into them, writing something specific and convincing about each gift. So Christmas afternoon meant laboring over thank you notes. As children we hated the task, but when I saw Mom beam as she thanked people, nurses, aides, doctors at the hospital, I realized something she had been trying to tell us all along. That there is a great joy in thanksgiving.

“What, in time I realized was that a thank you note isn’t the price you pay for receiving a gift, as so many children think it is, a kind of minimum tribute or toll, but an opportunity to count your blessings. And gratitude isn’t what you give in exchange for something: it’s what you feel when you are blessed – blessed to have family and friends who care about you, and want to see you happy. Hence the joy from Thanksgiving.” [The End of Your Life Book Club p. 203-204]

C.S. Lewis once also observed that grateful people were the happiest people he knew – that ungrateful people were sour, crabby, unpleasant and not nice to be with. Gratitude, he said, is mental health made visible.

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