Monday, September 6, 2010

Thanksgiving Days

Last weekend, my wife Emily and I stumbled upon the Emmy's on television, and though we didn't watch much more than a few minutes of this awards ceremony, it was long enough to hear a handful of acceptance/thank you speeches. Some were heartfelt and spontaneous. Others were written down and rehearsed. And whether the thanker listed out every thankee or just covered everyone with a blanket "and-anyone-else-I-forgot-to-mention" thank you, award winners made a point to express gratitude to all of those who made their moment of success possible.

This year's Emmy Awards Ceremony also fell on the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall on New Orleans. Sadly, the effects of this devastating event can still be seen and experienced today. Not to dismiss the gravity of just how tragic this event was (and still is), but Hurricane Katrina and its effects brought out the best in our country, united a city and ultimately inspired us all. While I'm sure this weekend dredged up the pain of that event, remembering some of the stories surrounding it also invited feelings of gratitude, thankfulness and being truly blessed.

Two very different occasions. One common theme- thankfulness. Isn't it unfortunate that we seldom take time to express gratitude unless we are truly showered with abundance or extremely humbled by tragedy or loss. Much like a pre-game speech that fades by kick-off or an in-service that does little more than change one small aspect of our practice for an even smaller amount of time, our spirits of gratitude wane shortly after our lives return to normal.

Even holidays' (including our "Holy Days", too) effects are short-lived. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter may produce the most long-lasting thankfulness. But, once the Christmas shopping bills arrive or we've eaten enough chocolate to more than make up for our Lenten abstinence our spirits of gratitude dwindle.

In order to have a consistent attitude of gratitude, we must make every day Thanksgiving Day. In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola suggests that Christians engage in a daily Examen, the first part of which is a review of one's day, from start to finish, noticing moments of God's presence.

Another tactic is to write down (on an actual sheet of paper) the people, things, and ideas (i.e. freedom) for which you are thankful. From there, review its contents daily (or even multiple times each day). Add to the list (hopefully without subtracting anything) as you see fit. Do it for a month and your awareness of the many blessings in your life will increase.

A final way to grow in appreciation for all that we have is to use good manners. It's amazing that simply "minding our p's and q's" can lead to more satisfaction with our current state in life. Say please and thank you, good morning, good afternoon, good evening and good night. Wave at people in cars who let you into traffic. Offer true and specific compliments to others, even strangers. Pray before eating. Pray before going to bed. Pray when you first get up in the morning. Hold doors. Pick up trash (even those that aren't yours). You'll come to find that the more polite you are, the more thankful you become. In turn, the more thankful you are the more for which you'll become thankful.

So, before your next moment of glory comes or before the next storm of your life hits, make a habit of spending time each day recognizing the many gifts bestowed upon you.

You might just thank me that you did.