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Thanks (&) Giving

November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American Holiday. There are more Americans on the roads and in the air during the holiday then at any other time during the year. It is essentially a family holiday.

Thanksgiving was first celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621, in gratitude to God for the harvest and for having survived their first winter.

Thanksgiving has Biblical-Jewish roots. Robert J. Hutchinson author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible says that: “Thanksgiving is yet another legacy of the Biblical heritage that shaped American law and culture over the centuries. There is at least some evidence that the deeply pious Pilgrims, who believed the Old Testament law was binding on Gentiles as well as Jews, may have been partially inspired by the Jewish harvest festival of Succoth.”The Festival of Succoth which is celebrated around the same time is very much a time of gratitude to God for his many blessings.

Gratitude is a noble value in anyone’s character. We appreciate it in others and we somehow aspire to it for ourselves. Cicero, the Roman philosopher said that gratitude is “the mother of all virtues.”

John Tierney in his November 22nd. NYT article entitled A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day writes: “Cultivating an attitude of gratitude has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety  and depression higher long-term satisfaction with life and a kinder behavior towards other, including romantic partners.”

Yet gratitude is not as highly valued in our society as it should be, particularly in our culture of entitlement. We much too often demand what we believe we “rightly deserve.” As Aldous Huxley once wrote: “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”

But do we really deserve anything and on what criteria? Are we any “better” or more “deserving” than those less fortunate. Should we not rather consider everything we have, such as health, family, friend, and money as gifts?

Gratitude also should lead to generosity. There is a link between the emotion of gratitude and the act of giving. Professor Christian Miller of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. says that: “Being grateful tends to activate an altruistic state of mind.” Professor Sally Planalp, of the University of Utah and author of Communicating Emotion writes that gratitude serves as an “emotional commitment to reciprocate.”

As we enter the period of Holidays, let us remember what Edwin Arlington Robinson, the American poet and Pulitzer Prize winner once said:

“(There are) two kinds of gratitude:

The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.”

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