"Who is happy?" asks a sage in the great Jewish wisdom compendium "Sayings of the Fathers." Answer: "He who is contented with his lot."
And how, this Thanksgiving Day, do you acquire contentment when you are constantly barraged with evidence that others have more beautiful possessions or are better looking, more talented, healthier, more admired, more loved, more valued? I count my blessings.
Here is a partial list of what I'm thankful for on Thanksgiving 2015.
I'm grateful for abundance. At Thanksgiving, the cornucopia -- a symbol of plenty since antiquity -- is everywhere, and rightly so. But every day is one of copiousness for us. This is not to discount the poor state of economic growth, the loss of good middle-class jobs, or other troubles. But I'm talking about the kind of riches we enjoy rain or shine.
We can browse the aisles of our supermarkets and choose this tray of raspberries or that sprig of thyme. Don't like the selection of papayas at this store? There's a competitor two miles away who might have what you're looking for. Can't find it in your local emporium? Dash to your computer and have it shipped if it's worth the shipping price. You can often have it by tomorrow.
For nearly all Americans and nearly all residents of the industrialized world, the basics of life -- food, clothing and shelter -- can be taken for granted. Yes, there are hungry people in every country, but those are special situations usually involving mental illness, child or elder abuse, or other rare circumstances (and there are thousands of charities and government programs dedicated to alleviating their suffering). The major food problem for the developed world's poor is not starvation but obesity. When my stomach grumbles, I feel grateful to know that it will be a matter of minutes, or at most hours, before I will be satisfied. In fact, in my whole life, the longest I've gone without food involuntarily (that is, not counting Yom Kippur) is probably six hours (due to travel delays). In the whole history of humanity, what percentage of human beings could say that?
I'm grateful that most people are honest most of the time. Staying with the supermarket theme for a moment, I once stupidly forgot to load my groceries into my car before driving on home, humming a tune and doubtless thinking of my next column topic. It took 10 minutes to drive back. I hadn't any worries that the food would be stolen.
My son lost his keys at his college last week. Some Good Samaritan turned them in to the lost and found.
America has many troubles, and the polarization of our politics and culture worries me. Yet in my personal life, I have thriving relationships with people on the other side of the political divide. They know that when they tell me about attending a Bernie Sanders rally I will need to suck in oxygen. But that doesn't prevent us from getting along just fine -- and better than fine. Some are even relatives.
I'm grateful to have discovered that personal development is a lifelong process. I'm referring not just to the fact that I started cello lessons four years ago and am now able to make sounds that don't cause neighborhood squirrels to wince -- but to the fact that I'm still learning how to be a better person. I'm a better conversationalist today (I like to think) than I was a few years ago despite the fact that I was mentally sharper then. See, that's part of what I've learned. People you're chatting with don't want to be dazzled by your intellect; they just want you to show some interest in them. (And if they are only looking for intellectual fireworks, the heck with 'em.)
I'm grateful for generous, warm colleagues and stimulating friends. I'm deeply thankful that medical advances continue (since this is a column about gratitude, I'll refrain from excoriating Obamacare), and that my son who has Type I diabetes will soon acquire a device, a continuous glucose monitor, that he can insert under his skin once a week. Instead of having to check his blood sugars five or six times a day with a finger stick, he will need to stick himself only once every 12 hours, and the CGM will send blood-sugar reports to his iPhone every five minutes. This is miraculous, and bids to get even better in the future.
I'm so grateful for my three sons and my buoyant husband, who, after 25 years, still makes me laugh almost daily. This is, as I mentioned, a very partial list of blessings. I could easily list my crotchets and complaints. But who is happy? He who is contented with his lot. Happy Thanksgiving.