I take this one out and read it every year to remind myself of what I already know, but often fail to practice.
The other day you asked me to explain Thanksgiving. You may remember what I told you: about the Pilgrims coming to America so that they could worship God as they chose; about the first harvest; about the four turkeys they ate and the big feast they held.
I realize now that my explanation was insufficient. You will hear the story I told you many times as you grow up. Every Autumn you will see plastic pilgrim hats and cardboard turkeys dangling from the ceilings of grocery stores. You will see gourds on front porches, baskets of wax vegetables on tables and in living rooms. You may even hear whispers about the glorious blessings of God. Most people in America know this part of the Pilgrim story. You could have heard it anywhere.
But I am your father. You ought to be able to expect more from me. So I should not have told you only half the story, as though the fact that there were four turkeys settled the matter. You see, the most important part of the Thanksgiving story is all about the hardships the pilgrims endured. And that part rarely gets told. The real story – in my opinion – is that the Pilgrims suffered, but were thankful anyway. They had every right to be bitter and angry, and yet they were not.
After all, they arrived in America with almost nothing. When the Mayflower sailed into Cape Cod and William Bradford went ashore for water, he and his men were attacked by natives. The pilgrims did not have the equipment they needed, and the English merchants who were supposed to send them much-needed supplies didn’t. And because they did not have enough supplies, many of them sickened and died during that first winter. So they ought to have been terribly cynical.
But they weren’t, and I’m going to tell you why. Lean close now, and listen carefully. What I’m going to tell you is worth all the money in the world, and then some. It’s a secret, but you can tell it to anyone you want, because no one will believe you. Are you ready?
The secret of happiness is called “thankfulness.”
I hope you’re not disappointed. Thankfulness probably seems like one of those dull things that grown-ups expect you to have, but don’t have themselves. Like manners, respect, and character. Of course, you are right. But it does not really matter whether anyone else is thankful or not. Thankfulness, (like manners, respect, and character) is mostly about you, not someone else.
Sometimes being thankful is hard. It is hard to be thankful when bad things happen, and bad things happen to everyone. I don’t mean only terrible, awful things, like cancer, or car accidents, or being attacked by natives. I mean everyday things, too: you stub your toe; you get a splinter; your toy breaks; someone says nasty things about you.
Still, I want you to be thankful.
When you are thankful, you will very often find something good mixed in with all the bad. But even if you don’t, be thankful anyway. Be thankful for your friends, even when they are not thankful for you. Be thankful for the food put before you, even when you do not like how it tastes. Be thankful for schoolwork, for chores, for your parents, even when these are dull. Start with the little things.
I do not mean that you have to be thankful for a bee sting. But you can be thankful for honey. If you cannot be thankful for bedtime, you can be thankful for your bed. Our new car has milk stains in the back seat because someone (who looks very much like you) spilled her milk there. Believe it or not, I am thankful for those milk stains. They remind me of you.
That is the kind of thankfulness I want you to practice.
Soon it will become a habit. Not long after that you will discover that you are genuinely happy, and your happiness will not depend on what happens to you. You will not need a new car or a bigger house to be happy. You will be happy standing penniless in the pouring rain. You may even kneel and give thanks for the food the rain brings.
© Daniel Schwabauer. All rights reserved.
May not be copied or used in part or in whole without express written permission from the author.