Keeping a Good Thanksgiving: Part 6

Part 6: “What a View!”

“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.”
                ~ Will Schwable, “The End of Your Life Book Club”

So, my proposal is that gratitude is a practice, a habit, before it is a feeling. What I learned because someone forced me into the practice – what Will Schwable learned as well, is that the practice or habit of gratitude actually prepares you for the feeling of gratitude.

Theologians, philosophers, and poets know it. At the heart of every religion is gratitude: for the sheer mystery and miracle of existence, “that there is something rather than nothing,” as the philosophers Leibniz and Heidegger put it, that you and I are here, that we have life and that there is a world around us that sustains and delights us, that there are other people who please us and enrich us, people we love and people who love us.

“O Give thanks to the Lord for He is good,” the ancient Psalmist wrote. It’s deeper than formal religion. Religion is my business but gratitude, giving thanks, is not our monopoly. I could launch the argument that you can’t be thankful unless there is someone to be thankful to. But I don’t really believe that. Belief in a creator makes gratitude for creation fuller, stronger, but it is not necessary. Diana Nyad, who swam from Cuba to Key West, got into a discussion with Oprah Winfrey about it a few weeks ago. She said she didn’t believe in a Supreme Being and it took Oprah back a bit. But she added that she felt awe and wonder and gratitude at the beauty of the world and other people. Oprah managed to stir up Atheists all over the country by seeming not to respect atheism – the theology on both sides was actually pretty squishy. But the issue remains – gratitude is a deeply human experience and to express it, to act on it and say it makes us more deeply, authentically alive. And it makes us happy.

Poets and authors who know about it, urge us simply to slow down, take a deep breath, open your eyes and see the gifts all around us.

One of the last things the late John Updike wrote was a personal memoir, Self Consciousness. In it he remembers his father-in-law exclaiming repeatedly while driving, “What a view!” when no one else in the car had even noticed. Updike wrote: “Like him, am I now in my amazed, insistent appreciation of this planet with its scenery and weather – the pathetic discovery the old make that every day and every season has its beauty. That even a walk to the mailbox is a precious experience, that all species of tree and weed have their signature and the sky is a pageant of clouds. Aging,” Updike wrote, “calls us outdoors after the adult indoors of work…into the lovely supplication we thought we had outgrown as children. We come again to love the plain world, stones and wood, air and water. The act of seeing itself is glorious and of hearing and feeling and tasting. [Self Consciousness p. 246]


  1. Stephen Littell says:

    Thank you for a wonderful reflection on the value of gratitude. I love Updike’s contribution and take heart in feeling that I have been old, in that way, for much of my life. The word also shares origin with the word “grace,” which, of course, represents one of the best of Christian notions. Happy Thanksgiving! Steve Littell

    Sent from my iPhone


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