Americans—Don't Forget to Give Thanks

Terry Paulson
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Posted: Nov 24, 2008 12:00 AM
Americans—Don't Forget to Give Thanks

This is a week for America to give thanks and take a break from politics!

Centuries ago, Roman orator and politician, Cicero, said: "Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all the others."

Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of Man's Search for Meaning, realized the power of reflecting on one's blessings. During a predawn march to work on laying railroad tracks, another prisoner wondered out loud about the fate of their wives. The young Frankl thought about his own wife and realized that she was present within him. He wrote: "The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved."

Dennis Prager, talk-show host and author of Happiness Is a Serious Problem, writes: "There is a secret to happiness and it is gratitude. All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that it is being unhappy that leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that it is complaining that leads to people becoming unhappy. Become grateful and you will become a much happier person. I try to be happy unless something happens that makes me unhappy, rather than unhappy unless something makes me happy."

In these difficult economic times, there is power in gratitude. In doing a free video series on optimism (www.terrypaulson.com/optimism.html), I realized how gratitude helps sustain a positive attitude. Unrealistic expectations are a sure road to unhappiness and disappointment. Optimists hope for more, but are not thrown by less.

Why? Expressing gratitude keeps one's frustrations and setbacks in perspective. Stressful worry and thankful thoughts are incompatible at the same time.

Dr. Joyce Brothers suggests: "Count up every single thing—large and small—that makes your life worthwhile, including your own innate talents…. When you quantify these things, gratitude—the mighty river to happiness—begins its journey through your soul."

Are you stuck with "Pits People?" They seem to live to complain—“The economy is the pits, the president’s the pits,…in fact, you’re the pits!" After thirty minutes with a "Pits Person," everyone's morale is sagging. Avoid the "Complain Game." In daily conversations, try a more thankful or upbeat response. After returning from Vietnam, former POW Charlie Plumb has a heartfelt response when people ask, “How’s it going?” He says, “I’m living the dream!” He is, and so are we—we’re Americans. So, instead of saying, "I'm stressed out," try replying "I'm blessed out!" Spread a few smiles, and watch attitudes lift.

Recently, two teens built a business selling T-shirts with the positive message--"Life is good!" They can’t keep the T-shirts in stock. The media may make a living bringing you the worst, but the people making things happen in the world don't have time to watch. They're too busy inventing a future they want to live in!

Some think possessions will bring happiness. All it takes is a disaster to prove what really matters—it's your loved ones not your luxuries that count. Life is less about what you've lost and more about what you do with what you have left.

Francis Johnson wrote: "If we fasten our attention on what we have, rather than on what we lack, a very little wealth is sufficient." I'd rather be rich than poor, but riches don't always produce optimistic attitudes. The wants and worries of the rich just involve more expensive toys.

Maybe there’s a reason so many faiths encourage a spirit of thanksgiving. Judaism encourages morning prayers to be thankful for the routine blessings in life. When believers open their eyes in the morning, they thank God that they're still alive. They thank God that their body is still functioning. Before they take a bite of breakfast, they thank God that they still have food.

That same spirit of thanksgiving is evident in the Christian faith, the Apostle Paul, writing to Christians in Philippi from his jail cell in Rome, wrote: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Reinhold Niebuhr penned what has come to be treasured as "The Serenity Prayer:" "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." In the months ahead, trust God for what you can't control and get busy investing your worry time in constructive action to better your situation.

This week, Americans have an opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving! Count your blessings more than your problems and disappointments. Instead of dwelling on what might have been, look for the unexpected openings that present new opportunities you don't want to miss in 2009. We can be thankful for the exciting adventure ahead as we all work to invent an even better future in America.