Throughout the centuries people have come up with lots of reasons as to why bad things happen to us. One explanation is that it’s payback: “what goes around comes around.” Another is from the book of Job. Humans, the limited mortals that we are, cannot ever know the reason for our misfortune. We must take it on faith that there is a reason for everything. A third explanation for our misfortune is that we live in a random universe and sometimes bad things happen because that’s the way it goes.
Interestingly there’s not nearly so much thinking about why good things happen to us… Do we even need an explanation or is it simply enough to know that we get good stuff in our lives from time to time? Does performing a good deed necessarily mean that we will reap benefit from it? Sometimes, though we all know the phrase “No good deed goes unpunished”…
Our lives are continuously buffeted by all the things that happen to us and around us. We are overwhelmed by the velocity of every day, every hour. It’s easy in this world to lose track of the good things that sustain us.
Alan Morinis, a leading thinker in the Musar movement (about which you will be hearing much more in the months to come), writes: “…The very essence of gratitude lies in the heart …. An inner attitude or stance of thankfulness provides us with resources that help us face whatever we encounter in our lives. A grateful heart is a platform from which to reach out to take care of others as well as ourselves because this orients us toward the resources we have, not what we lack…”
But in order to attain a grateful heart we have to actually direct ourselves to think and yes, behave in a new way. We have to express thankfulness to feel it. Saying thank you from a grateful heart fills us up with even more joy even as it touches another. A significant part of our liturgy is all about thanking God. Directing our hearts to that task instead of mindlessly reading words connects us to the gifts of goodness we receive every day.
Thanksgiving is an opportunity to speak words of gratitude for more than just the great turkey dinner or the football game. It is the chance to gather one’s thoughts about the past year and to select a couple of things for which you want to give thanks. Maybe you’re comfortable thanking God for the love you feel from others. Maybe you don’t believe in God at all. This does not preclude your actually thanking the people around you at the table for what they bring to your life.
In a way Thanksgiving is like the other side of the spectrum of Yom Kippur when we spend our time asking for forgiveness. It’s time to share our gratitude. Would the world be a better place if people spent more time giving thanks for what they had rather than complaining about what they lack? Undoubtedly. Would we feel better about ourselves if we could acknowledge that we were the recipients of good things and not just hard knocks?
Next Thursday, look around your table and say thank you to the people who have made your life better. Look into your heart and give thanks for your breath, your vision, your mind. None of this is promised to us. We don’t “deserve” good health. We don’t “deserve” a good life. So say thank you.