An Attitude of Gratitude: Recalling What Thanksgiving is About

A mom I know and respect recently talked with me about conversations in her 7-year-old daughter’s class among the kids about how rich their families were. Now before you roll your eyes, understand that this is an age when kids are trying to locate themselves within a peer structure-it’s a natural thing we do as humans-and material status is tangible to kids. So let’s assume that they are not intentionally being monsters but, as kids do when they begin to interact in the world as separate individuals looking for simplistic ways to locate themselves within the social order in which they find themselves. True, these kid interactions can create awkward questions and situations at home, but so can questions about body types, clothing, personal habits and myriad other topics that are new to kids as they first encounter the world outside their homes and realize they are encountering things that are different than what they know. Even as a child blurts out, “Why is that person so like that?” at full volume in a public place, we have to struggle to realize that they are trying to get a grasp on this big, strange world they suddenly find themselves in. They don’t know topics are off limits or inappropriate for a high decibel discussion, even as you, the adult, want to disappear.

This topic seems particularly relevant this year at Thanksgiving when people are concerned about the economy and their own jobs when real pressures are being exerted on families and there are concerns and fears about the future. This may not be new—my parents and grandparents had similar concerns as they were raising families—but they are very real and their our concerns. There may not be immediate solutions, but there are things we can do that will help us negotiate through all of this and model positive thinking for our children. Foremost among these is what recovery programs call “the attitude of gratitude.” Simply put, it means looking at what you’ve got and being grateful, for whatever it is.

My mother was a master at this. We did not grow up with money, but we always had food, clothes, a warm place to sleep and family. She gently and in a way we could understand let us know that many people in the world did not have that much and so we were truly blessed and fortunate. She also got us involved in helping at an early age—whether collecting for Unicef at an early age or volunteering to help with tutoring in schools when we were teenagers. It was not what you have, she instilled in us, it’s what you do with what you have that matters.

Now I’m not going to say we were little saints; we weren’t by any stretch of the imagination. We were normal, self-involved kids who spent some time trying to help others, which by the way could often be a lot of fun. In doing so, we also gained a context and a view of the world that was much larger and more realistic than what we would have gotten otherwise.

We never know what tomorrow will bring. We can hope and plan, but as the saying goes: If you want to hear God laugh, make plans. What we can do is take time on Thanksgiving to acknowledge all we do have and to model that for our children so they, too, can begin to develop an attitude of gratitude that will set them up for life and all its challenges more than anything material can ever do.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful, restful Thanksgiving.

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