Halloween seems to have outstripped Thanksgiving in popularity. That was my observation when I went shopping for some Thanksgiving themed items a few weeks ago. While I could have purchased all kinds of ghoulish merchandise, I had trouble finding cocktail napkins with an autumn motif; I might have even settled for a tacky package of Tom Turkey napkins if any had been available.
I have nothing against Halloween. I have always liked it, and I never could buy into the belief that the celebration of Halloween opened us up to evil. Little kids dressing up and collecting candy is just plain, good fun, and there is nothing inherently wrong in costume parties. It makes me wonder, though, about our priorities when the focus on Halloween overshadows Thanksgiving. Has the practice of being thankful fallen out of favor?
I have a very simple practice that reminds me to be thankful on a daily basis. Before meals, my husband and I say grace. We both learned the same prayer as children, and we taught it to our own children. We can rattle it off, and sometimes, I admit, it is more pro forma than mindful. Occasionally, as I am about to take that first bite, I suddenly ask, “Did we say grace?” Still, the habit reminds me to express thanks to God.
While my practice of saying grace is theistic, a member of our family has a different way of expressing thankfulness that may or may not be theistic, depending on an individual’s beliefs. When we dine at this person’s home, we each take a turn to express gratefulness for something about our day.
I like this way of being thankful because it includes everyone around the table. No one is forced to sit politely and awkwardly while others pray, and everyone, regardless of the quality of their day, can think of at least one reason for gratitude. Equally important to me, this little ritual of thanksgiving requires intentionality: it forces me to scroll back upon the day and consider the good things in my life. It increases my appreciation for those things that I might otherwise take for granted, and it refocuses my attention on the things that truly matter.
Gratitude does not stop at simply saying “thanks” for something that has made us happy on any given day. Gratitude helps us to ‘get over our self’ and encourages a ‘pay it forward’ attitude. Grateful for the good gifts we have received, we want to reflect goodness back to others. Whether we practice gratitude in a religious context or not, gratitude reflects a fundamental option for living that is directed outward.
A shopping excursion to buy some napkins led me to a casual observation, and prompted me to wonder if we have indeed become an ungrateful lot. The feelings of happiness that we derive from external events, like receiving a gift, purchasing something new, being praised for an accomplishment, or even celebrating Halloween, are pleasurable and sweet, but they are not gratitude. Gratitude is a lingering disposition of the heart that delights in relationships, in the natural world, and in the consciousness that there is more to life than meets the eye.