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Thanksgiving is for gratitude, not gratification

We aren’t grateful for much anymore, are we? Can’t stand our politicians, hate our commute and puke when we look in the mirror. Come to think of it, we’re a rather miserable lot.

This doesn’t seem like a fetching way to start the Thanksgiving holiday, but I’ve wondered if our country’s sordid state of stupor doesn’t have a whole lot to do with how much we can’t stand just about everything in our lives.

Oh sure, we’re all going to sit around a dry turkey this week and offer our gratitude to the Pilgrims and Amazon, but we’re not going to mean a word of it. We’ll be mad about something.

We’ll curse the Pilgrims because they used too much fossil fuel when they cooked their corn. We’ll find a reason to blame Amazon for executing the most brilliant business model this world has ever seen.

We’ll find something to bemoan, because that’s what we do.

It’s not my intent to build a pulpit and start screaming, but I’ve thought a lot about gratitude these days because I’m trying to teach a 5- and 2-year-old how to say “thank you.”

My oldest son, Hank, believes the world is his gumball dispenser. No matter how hard I try to engrain the precepts of gratitude into his stubborn mind – I demand he say thank you for all things handed to him – he doesn’t get it.

Not to indict my precious son, but true story: I am writing this week’s column from a hotel room. My wife and two sons are all asleep, because we’ve made it half-way to our destination in Alabama, where my parents live. Earlier today, as I prepared for this road trip, I went to a super store and picked up a few extra items that might ease the trip. Among those items was a box-set DVD of the classic “Home Alone” movies, which Hank loves because, apparently, nothing excites him more than terrorizing older people – namely, his parents.

Included in the set was “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2,” in which the writers and poor Macaulay Culkin changed the cities but not much else.

As we prepared to set off on our trip, I pulled out the plastic bag and told Hank I had a surprise for him. I showed him that I had bought both movies, thinking his eyes would glitter with affection for his perfect dad.

“Why didn’t you buy Home Alone 3?”

I kid you not. That was Hank’s response to my gift for him.

Oh sure, you may blame me for being a terrible parent, and you’d be right. But from the moment my oldest son has been able to utter a vowel, I have taught him gratitude. It doesn’t matter if I hand him a stack of pennies or a piece of burnt toast, Meghan and I have drilled thankfulness into this stubborn child’s mind.

But you know what? I’m not sure Hank is any different than the rest of us. If we’re honest, haven’t we built a society that spends more time hoping for what’s next? Isn’t our every decision based on gratification over gratitude?

The irony in my observation is that I work in the industry that does more to promote collective anger than any agent around. Once upon a time, the day’s information came from a morning newspaper and an evening newscast. Today, we scroll feeds, set alerts and stream press conferences. We’re malcontents for social vulgar.

From our constant news streams evolved a social stream of conscious, where professional journalists were traded for social media citizen reporters, sharing tidbits from life, death and cooking recipes.

We couldn’t get enough of constant cable, so our society created a feed of friends who told us how wonderful their lives were, how terrible ours still are, and in the process, we teeter between connectivity and manic depression.

We aren’t grateful anymore because we can’t know it all, we can’t do it all, and we can’t be happy until we can and we do.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. Tired of always wanting more when what I have works fine. Tired of being told that some friend in Phoenix took a trip I’ll never take. Tired of being told that I live in the worst country on Earth when I get to make my bed and eat my breakfast without thought or threat. Tired of told that things must be better when better things don’t really matter.

It’s Thanksgiving this week, and we’re all going to make a wish for something else. But here’s what I’ve learned: Thanksgiving is a reflection on the past, not a hope for what’s next. It’s a time for gratitude, not self-gratification. It’s a moment to appreciate what we have, not deconstruct what we don’t.

There’s no chance in a trillion Tweets we’ll do this, but what if, for just one day, we tuned out the voices that create our national angst? What if we spent a few minutes, a few hours, reflecting on those who make our lives better, not those who prosper from the worst.

I bet we’re more grateful than we think we are.

 

Email jmcelvy@thegreensheet.com

Jonathan McElvy