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Political commentators spend most of their days following the awful things happening in the world. Bad news, after all, is what dominates the news cycle.
War, death, poverty, and injustice (and the occasional cat video) fill our laptop screens from the moment we wake until we go to bed. By the fourth day of the workweek, it’s easy to cycle between outrage and despair.
People on all sides succumb to this emotional low road, which is why there’s so much anger about failed politicians, terrible policies and broken promises. Our grandparents would yell at the newspaper, our parents at the TV, but now everyone can hear our complaints. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube spread everyone’s misery worldwide.
In recent years, protesters have shut down freeways and rampaged through neighborhoods while students at even the most exclusive universities screech about the raw deal they got in life.
Through the miracle of technology, the less motivated can protest from their sofas. They can “cancel” a rich celebrity for a clumsy statement, boycott a company for a lousy policy and bully random citizens caught behaving badly in a viral video. It feels good to blame others for the mess we’re in — and a lot easier than contemplating our own shortcomings.
Modern America has replaced virtue with victimhood, and the nation is poorer for it. Granted, the United States remains one of the wealthiest nations in the history of mankind, but we’ve trained ourselves not to recognize this obvious fact. Even to mention the manifold (and nearly miraculous) blessings of American life is a form of hate speech to some.
In a far meaner age, Cicero said that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” An attitude of thankfulness is a choice free to everyone — even those plagued with peace, relative prosperity, and the latest iPhone. It’s easier in the short term to whine but it makes for a downright miserable life — not only for ourselves, but also for the dwindling number of people who surround us.
This Thanksgiving, and in the days to follow, choose gratitude. Be thankful for the nation, for your life, for those whom you love and those who love you, flaws and all. Like a muscle, you can strengthen this virtue with regular exercise.
Instead of complaining about that dumb politician you hate, think about the one you like and send them a note of encouragement. An unexpected “thank you” to a co-worker, teacher, or customer service rep could shock those used to endless complaints, but will make their day.
Another old Roman, Seneca, wrote that we even should be thankful for the most “fleeting and slippery possession” of all — the time we have left on Earth.
“Such is the great foolishness of mortals, that they allow the least important, cheapest, and easily replaceable objects to be charged to their accounts after they have received them,” he said. “But they never consider themselves to be in debt when they have received time; and yet this is the one thing that even a grateful recipient can never repay.”
None of us know if we have a day left or decades, but we should choose to spend each minute in gratitude. On this uniquely American holiday, choose to be thankful — genuinely thankful — for all you’ve been given. But more importantly, choose to be thankful on Friday as well. And on Saturday and on Sunday.
Every day should be Thanksgiving. It only takes the choice to make it so.
Originally published in the Arizona Republic, Nov. 23, 2019.