Giving Thanks in Troubled Times

images-1Here we are once again on the eve of Thanksgiving. It rolls around once per year with the explicit reminder that we should take pause and be thankful. With all that is going on in the world these days, this can be difficult to do. Every time we listen to the news, we hear more about the chaos in the Middle East, terrorist attacks, police brutality, and the endless violence in the world. How are we supposed to be giving thanks in such troubled times?
Here are a few things in to keep in mind that might help us during this Thanksgiving holiday and beyond:

  1. Peace on Earth?: Of course, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about terrorism, wars, and other acts of violence in the U.S. and across the globe. Still, it’s important to keep things in perspective as well. With regard to wars and violence, the world is NOT going to hell in a handbasket. According to extensive research and analysis by Harvard’s Dr. Stephen Pinker that is detailed in his opus, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, violence in the world has steadily declined to its lowest point in human history. While this certainly DOES NOT mean we should take a casual approach to address the many troubles in the world, the news media would have us believe that the world is spinning out of control into an epidemic of violence. The old adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” is thriving in our technologically hyperlinked society.  The aggregate effect of this can be a heightened sense of insecurity and fear which, ironically, diminish the quality of the very lives that we fear to lose.
  2. Advice from Master Yoda?: While we need to acknowledge our fears and anxieties (and work toward productive solutions), it is important that we aren’t consumed by these feelings. Since I’m a geek and the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, will be out soon, I’m going to have to quote Master Yoda on this: Fear is the path to The Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. We must be mindful of our fear because it can indeed take us down a dark path in life.
  3. An Antidote to the Fear?: It’s easy to get consumed by feelings of fear. But we can’t just tell ourselves to “not be afraid.” Also, as much as we’d like, we can’t simply get out of bed and go fix the problems in the Middle East. But focusing on our fears and things we cannot control can cause us to feel helpless, depressed, or angry. What we need to do is focus on what we can do. What we can do is engage in acts of kindness, show compassion, and give thanks. As the godfather of Western psychology, William James, said, “Our experience is what we choose to attend to.” When we focus our attention on more positive aspects of life, it changes us, and others around us, for the better. I’m not suggesting that we sweep our problems under the rug, we just don’t want our attention to be consumed by fear and the world’s ills.
  4. More Than a Day: You’ve probably heard it before, but it is as true today as the first time that we all heard it. Thanksgiving shouldn’t be just for one day. For our own happiness and the happiness of those around us (because they are all connected), we need to practice being grateful on a daily basis. We need to weave the practice of gratitude, of giving thanks, into our daily lives. It can be for big things – the birth of a child, a wedding, a new home. However, often it is the small things in life that we take for granted for which we need the most practice at giving thanks – a cozy bed to sleep in, clean running water, our daily meals and, of course, our relationships.

So, for this Thanksgiving, make a pledge to practice gratitude on a daily basis. There are many ways to do this:

  • Keeping a gratitude journal
  • Using gratitude apps
  • Setting reminders in our phone
  • Placing post-it reminders
  • Starting a family ritual at the dinner table

The most important point is we try to find a practice that works for us. Know that we benefit from it, those around us benefit from it, and that such a practice of gratitude can be an antidote to the climate of fear that often pervades our world. Happy Thanksgiving!

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