Nowadays — and irremediably — even the national holidays have fallen prey to consumerism.
On Memorial Day, backyard barbecues replace the solemn visits to the tombs of our soldiers, sailors and Marines. On Independence Day, the biggest attraction are the fireworks, not history or the Founding Fathers. On Labor Day, we do not honor workers’ rights, but go off on trips. And Christmas Day, like important days in other religions’ calendars, has become for some families a day to exchange gifts.
Thanksgiving Day, however, has managed to evade the materialistic wave and remains faithful to its original spirit, though some store chains may try to sabotage its essence. The survival of its authenticity goes beyond walking on the footsteps that the residents of Plymouth Colony left behind.
The reason is that there is no one, unhappy or pessimistic though he or she may be, who hasn’t experienced at some point during the year one of the most common emotions among human beings: gratitude. And that’s because neither barbecues nor fireworks nor travel nor presents can be fully enjoyed without a feeling of gratefulness.
To be thankful is to pause on the rocky road of everyday living to identify and be aware of the gifts and blessings we receive from the universe. It is the natural antidepressant to deal with, and even overcome, any problem that troubles us at any moment. Gratitude allows us to view a situation or issue as if from a watchtower and to place it within a landscape that includes the torrent of positive things that are happening to us, beginning with the privilege of life itself.
There is no religious or philosophical tradition that doesn’t see gratitude through the eyes of admiration. To worship God or a Higher Power with gratitude is a sine qua non requisite, which is why the sacred texts, prayers and a culture’s basic tenets are permeated with it.
The mother of all virtues, gratitude — or the ability to be grateful — is associated with positive emotions, satisfaction with life, optimism, hope and vitality. Its systematic study has been the field of the positive psychology movement, emerged in the late 20th Century, which has scientifically proved that expressing gratitude improves well-being, boosts self-esteem and makes us less susceptible to negative emotions such as frustration, deception and fear.
In fact, biologists who have measured psycho-physiological connections with gratitude conclude that cultivating an attitude of thankfulness can improve heart functions, relieve depression and reduce physical pain.
Especially if someone attempts to create something in his or her life, be healthy, or find prosperity, thanking or blessing what one has — including something as simple as water for the shower or a telephone to communicate with a loved one — serves as a magnet to attract what one seeks and to magnify the gifts that life has already bestowed.
To acknowledge abundance from one’s heart is to live in abundance. And abundance is not only having a bank account with a fat balance or driving the latest model automobile. It also includes our attributes and virtues, especially the fact that we are the perfect children of God no matter our outer experiences.
The daily practice of gratitude begins when we open our eyes in the morning, when we say thanks for being awake. Then follows the gratitude list — oral or written — for what is happening to us at this time. Finally comes the appreciation of what is to come, the food we are about to eat, the people we are going to meet, the work we’re going to perform, the love we’re going to receive, the blessings that will come upon us. It is a tacit declaration that we are open to receive what belongs to us.
In this Thanksgiving Day spirit, I invite you to gently place your right hand on your left shoulder and your left hand on your right shoulder. As you embrace yourself, thank yourself for the gift of being you.
Daniel Shoer Roth, El Nuevo Herald’s metro columnist, writes periodically about spirituality and values.