As I write, Thanksgiving Day was yesterday. For anyone reading this who’s not from the U.S., it’s a holiday we celebrate every November to celebrate the bounty of our lives in this country we call home. We’re not alone in designating a special day to give thanks. Many countries follow this practice at various times of the year.
I’m writing this after Thanksgiving is because I’ve realized that this is an ideal time to write about thankfulness and gratitude—attitudes we need to cultivate and practice not just once a year, but all 365 days. For some of us, the heartwarming feelings of sharing a feast with loved ones on this annual holiday is still fresh on our minds. At the same time, many of us spent Thanksgiving alone as shut-ins, or far away from loved ones, or without family or friends in our lives. Even if we’re fortunate enough to have someone we love for companionship on this day of observance, we may not have the means to put a traditional turkey with all the trimmings on the table. Yet most of us—wealthy or underserved—participate in giving thanks!
Gratitude has little to do with how many material things we own and everything to do with our humbleness and appreciation for what we have, which is better measured by intangible blessings. It might surprise some of us to know that deep gratitude is often felt more strongly among those who appear to have little in terms of money rather than those privileged to have many luxuries and few worries about basic things like safety, shelter, food and warmth.
Those of us who have more than enough without struggle can take our advantages for granted. We begin to feel entitled to everything, according to our birthright. At the opposite end of the spectrum, many may find it a constant challenge to provide for our basic needs, but gratitude helps us transcend our sense of scarcity.
When we practice gratitude in our daily lives, we actually begin to feel better. Melodie Beattle said it with eloquence: ”Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” In expressing our gratitude to others—including loved ones, friends, and virtual strangers—for making the effort to make our lives at least more tolerable and often more pleasant, we transform their acts of generosity, which would otherwise go unnoticed, into the sharing of joy.
Without exception—whether we’re rich, poor, or somewhere in between as defined by our accumulation of possessions— it’s gratitude that determines our humanity and raises us above our baser inclinations of doing whatever will serve our vanity and greed, regardless of whether our actions hurt, even destroy, others in our way.
As women, we are equal to men. At the same time, on a global level millions of us are trying to advance in achieving financial independence—demanding equal pay for equal work in this process. We may question the effectiveness of gratitude in gaining our autonomy. We feel we have the right to succeed on our own merit, but at the same time we owe a debt of gratitude to anyone—including the men in our lives—who provide for wellbeing as sponsors, mentors, fathers, husbands and friends. We might be conflicted about our appropriate roles in their lives and theirs in ours. We don’t want to be doormats—submissive and subservient.
Raw feelings of entitlement can carry resentment toward those we perceive as holding us back. We become angry whenever our needs aren’t met. This is seldom justifiable in accomplishing our objectives. We’re damaging our relationships with the people who care about us. Plus, they have the capacity to help us. In other words, we’re antagonizing those with influence—usually men. Any progress that we may seem to make is an illusion, when it doesn’t include acknowledgement of our dependence on those who largely control our fate. Real advancement is contingent on the expression of our gratitude for what we have, not our aversion for that which we don’t have in our personal and business lives.
The forum where we can best express our entitlement to human rights is politics. In fact, it’s our responsibility to express to our government what we believe is unfair. Through campaigning, voting, and accepting leadership positions, we stand the greatest chance to gain the liberties we deserve. It’s a tough fight, but we’re proving that we’re up to it.
Historically, women have earned some respect for our compassion. Although there are some who consider this a weakness, it’s our greatest strength. Our consistent demonstration of love, which includes the expression of gratitude, distinguishes our characters. We would be misguided to ignore or compromise our remarkable gift.
Mary Kathryn Jones, Writer