Gratitude, psychologists tell us, is good for us. In the last twenty years, study after study has confirmed that people “who live a life of pervasive thankfulness” (those inclined to count their blessings and see life as a gift, according to Dr. Robert Emmons) reap undeniable mental health benefits. They have a lower incidence of depression, higher satisfaction with life, higher levels of happiness and well-being. The Grateful Living also have better immune systems, physical health, and longer life expectancy. Psychologist Robert Emmon’s pathbreaking work on this topic explores not just that theme, but also the fortuitous effects of gratitude on community. Grateful people, he finds, are more likely to be altruistic, service-oriented people, who cheerfully give back to the community because they see themselves as fortunate and their lives (regardless of material condition) as abundant. Gratitude truly is, as Cicero observed, the parent of all virtues.
So, it turns out that our national tradition of reserving the fourth Thursday of every November for Thanksgiving is a cutting-edge idea. This year’s annual feast of gratitude comes at a time when many in our land are not feeling particularly thankful. We seem to be focused on the slimy road we’re walking and the boulders that may trip us up. And there are boulders. We’re not at a summit, where we can look back, see the big picture, and pronounce it good.
But that inability—to see the abundance and beauty, and not just the muck at our feet—is partly of our own making. One thing that makes human beings different from other mammals is historical memory. We have the ability not simply to recall the past, but to make sense of it, gauging where we are relative to where we have been. In this modern era, we don’t do that often enough; we tend to focus on the short-term issues. But if we do a big picture look-back, we human beings have come a long way, baby, in a short period of time.
What do we have to be grateful for this November 2018?
It’s true that these indices of global prosperity, health, and education, are “just” material realities, rather than indicators of political or moral development. But these are objective, hard-won triumphs, and we have a lot to be thankful for. The world is (in very many ways) in a much better place now than it was as late as 1990. And the United States- a nation of problem-solvers, innovators, and trail-blazers in technology and medicine-has had a lot to do with that.
So, this Thanksgiving, while we walk the rocky road ahead of us and pray for a better foothold, let’s stop for a minute, remember that we have been in darker places, and count our blessings. Buen Camino!
Mary Beth Klee
Highlighting our September virtue of Respect, a dramatic reading of Peppe The Lamplighter.
Human history does not always prove the efficacy of human striving. We sail in strong currents, and sometimes our vessels (large and small) are swamped by rogue waves. One thinks of the Plague, the Holocaust, or 9-11. But we are not without ballast and rudders. We struggle to right ourselves, and we move forward. This month the Core Virtues program celebrates men and women who were bold enough to brave monster waves and high winds, take the hits, and pilot us to better ports. These are lives to learn from.
“To wonder is to marvel at mystery, to stand in awe before the unexplained.”
“Wonder is the first step on the path to knowledge."
Bas-relief on the ocean floor. The sculpted medallion lay eighty feet below sea level and was more than six feet in diameter. Mathematically precise ridges and grooves formed a sandy floral masterpiece in concentric circles, an underwater dahlia festooned with shells. When deep-sea diver and photographer Yoji Ookata first spied this work of art on the ocean floor in the 2012, he was awe-struck. Some suspected aliens. How else could it have been made? And then of course, with ocean currents and swells, the glory was eventually unmade – vanishing like a Buddhist sand mandala and apparently without purpose.
Wow. “I wonder….” Who? What? How? To what end?
Seventy-year-old Yoji Ookata, a Japanese photographer who has spent the last fifty years scuba diving and documenting his discoveries in the East China Sea, wasn’t prepared to cede the ground to extra-terrestrials. He rallied colleagues and a camera crew to better understand what he dubbed “the mystery circle.” His diligence and discovery only increase our awe and wonder at the world in which we live, the glorious complexity of nature, and our appreciation for the wonders we have yet to understand. Scientists say only 5% of the ocean floor has been mapped – yet this marvel has been unearthed. What will we find next, if we are sufficiently open to wonder?
Watch this You Tube link, featuring a BBC Planet Earth clip. Prepare to marvel at a five-inch critter, who is one of nature’s greatest artists and most dedicated suitors.
Wonder is to stop and say “Wow.”