By Daniel Goodwin
Life is filled with challenges: finding a job, paying for college, affording your retirement. While this may seem paradoxical, on Thanksgiving we should be thankful for frustrations and obstacles.
Often on Thanksgiving we think of the Pilgrims. The English colonialists were a grateful lot, but on religious days of thanksgiving, they focused on prayer, not feasting. Our concept of thanksgiving harkens back to the fall of 1621 when the Pilgrims and friendly Wampanoag Indians celebrated the colony’s first successful harvest.
William Sydney Porter, known by his pen name O. Henry, cherished Thanksgiving as uniquely an American institution. “There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to ... Thanksgiving Day ... is the one day that is purely American.
The feast may be at your house, the home of your adult children, the grandparents or in-laws house or just a gathering of friends. Aside from overeating, we revel in remembrances of blessings and the warmth of friendship and kinship. Giving thanks is a healthy exercise in gratitude, the essence of all thanksgiving.
A prayer written by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of Great Britain, is instructive: “I thank Him for all the defeats and failures that make leadership so difficult, because the hard things are the only ones worth doing, and because all genuine achievement involves taking risks, making mistakes, and never giving up.
True leaders thrive on challenge. If you have challenges, with your family or at work, be grateful that you have a family and a job. Challenges are learning experiences. They make you stronger and a better person. If you are not challenged, life will be boring, and you will not grow. Challenges are energizing, viewed through a lens of gratitude.
Being grateful for your innate gifts and talents can help turn negatives into positives. Some of the best things in your life grew out of a negative circumstance. Remember the Garth Brooks line in his song “Unanswered Prayers”. Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.
A friend of mine labored for months on a new book. He had the entire text stored in a laptop computer, which was stolen while on a trip to Europe. With no backup, totally frustrated, he had to start over. However, the redo was a much better product than the first version. The setback became a positive.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion, appreciation for what we have, not resentment for what we lack. In a consumer-oriented society, pop psychology and media messaging pushes us to focus on more, more, more. Is your glass half-full? Or half-empty?
I once had a hard-driving boss tell me, “Attitude is more important than facts. Grateful people focus on the half-full, joyful for 50% as they go for the next 10%. Grateful people are positive by nature with higher levels of optimism and energy than those who are more easily defeated.
So this Thanksgiving, look at your vexing challenges and contemplate what you are learning, how you are growing, how you will be strengthened, how you will advance in character and wisdom.
The mosaic of humanity is filled with tales of both happiness and sorrow. A family from Kenya that feels blessed and grateful for their almost finished Habitat for Humanity house in a safe neighborhood ... children facing starvation in civil war-torn Syria ... a Transportation Security Administration agent in Los Angeles who went to work on a Friday, never to come home again or see another Thanksgiving.
Shelter, food and life itself are blessings for which we should say a prayer of gratitude as we join those we love and care for at table on Nov. 28. That’s what the Pilgrims thanked God for in 1621.
Gratitude makes you focus on what truly is important. That is the real Thanksgiving blessing.