Much of what we read here is dedicated to analyzing, opining, and criticizing elements of the body politic and problems with the world, our nation, and our community. In spite of all that we find that needs fixing around us, one of the most lamentable things we could do is fail to acknowledge and be grateful for all that we should be thankful for. Even singer and songwriter James Taylor this week affirmed the need for gratitude, as he explained in an email to fans, “Gratitude is the way to an improved attitude, dude.”
It’s often difficult to think in those terms. We are often overwhelmed at the daunting challenges and vicissitudes of life that we face on a daily basis. Problems with health, the loss of a loved one, financial woes, the loss of a job, problems with a marriage or with children, often consume us emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Yet somehow we find ways to deal with our personal crucibles, to surmount our challenges, and crest our Everests.
The human spirit, if not doused with hopelessness, can be indomitable. We find ways to deal with, overcome, and survive our ordeals. We find solutions to our woes and answers to life’s tough questions. Often such resolution comes from insights, counsel, and wisdom from a loved one. Other times they come from unseen founts of wisdom and loving arms of solace after earnest and heartfelt pleadings to our Maker.
But as arduous and challenging as life can be for all of us in one way or another, there is always much to be grateful for. And hopefully, the significance of Thanksgiving has not been lost to us.
We may be of bad health, but hopefully some things are still working fine. We may be struggling financially, but we’re still together as a family. We may have a child struggling with his or her own inner demons, yet as long as there is love, there is hope. To everything there is a silver lining. It may be obscured by our preoccupation with our trials, but it’s there. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder to find it.
I’m convinced that many of the social and cultural problems we face today are the result of a loss of a collective sense of gratitude. Rather than being grateful for what we have and the blessings that we enjoy, although sparse they may sometimes seem to us, we focus on what we don’t have, or what we think we deserve or we’re entitled to. This lack of gratitude is concomitant with narcissism and self-centeredness, and reveals a deep character flaw; absence of humility.
In my estimation, no one has captured this sentiment better than a former president of the LDS Church. Gordon B. Hinckley said some years ago, “Our society is afflicted by a spirit of thoughtless arrogance unbecoming those who have been so magnificently blessed. How grateful we should be for the bounties we enjoy. Absence of gratitude is the mark of the narrow, uneducated mind. It bespeaks a lack of knowledge and the ignorance of self-sufficiency. It expresses itself in ugly egotism and frequently in wanton mischief….
“Where there is appreciation, there is courtesy, there is concern for the rights and property of others. Without appreciation, there is arrogance and evil. Where there is gratitude, there is humility, as opposed to pride.”
In a rather simplistic fashion, we have the proverbial conundrum of whether the glass is half full, or half empty. In our individual lives, it all depends on how we look at things, and whether we choose to focus on the deficiencies in our lives or on the bounties that we enjoy. And that’s all a matter of attitude.
The evangelical author and pastor, Chuck Swindoll, made a statement years ago that has profoundly shaped my perspective about life, and about gratitude itself. He said, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
May we all choose to realize that our glasses are indeed half full, and to foster a concomitant attitude of gratitude. Rather than focusing on the negative, may we be incessantly looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, and the silver lining to the dark and ominous clouds in our lives. May we express our gratitude to one another, manifest by acts of courtesy, kindness, and respect. And perhaps most importantly, may we express daily our immense dependence upon, and gratitude to God. Not just during the Thanksgiving season, but everyday of our lives. It truly is the way to an improved attitude!
Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at [email protected].