Thanksgiving is about ‘thanks living’

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Tim Porter
  • 21st Space Wing chaplain
I can hardly believe that we are already into the first week of November and it is time again to prepare for unit and squadron Thanksgiving potlucks, culminating with the Thanksgiving holiday at the end of the month.

When I was a child, I was fascinated with the stories of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth. My elementary school classroom was decorated with pictures of pilgrims, pumpkins and turkeys. In our home, my mother also added to the holiday spirit by decorating our dining room table with a cornucopia flanked by candles in the forms of male and female pilgrims and a turkey.

Although Thanksgiving is an annual celebration, I believe it also reminds us that gratitude should be a permanent attitude in our lives rather than a temporary state of mind. Being grateful year-round, instead of just one day out of the year, is what I like to call "Thanks Living." Why is gratitude important? Gratitude is the antidote for complaining, dissatisfaction and discontentment. When we complain we are focused only on what we don't have and it causes us to overlook the blessings in our lives. We focus on our shortfalls instead of our abundance. When dissatisfaction develops into a culture of complaining and it is translated into our work space, it undermines morale which is a critical ingredient for teamwork and mission success.

The media bombards us every day with bad news - budget deficits, a growing national debt, the threat of terrorism, crime, etc. - which tends to throw a blanket on our optimism and to breed discouragement. This is why it is important to daily take note of the positive things in our lives. A few days ago, I reflected on some of the blessings that come with being a military member. These are some things that came to my mind: I can check out a vehicle at the 21st Logistics Squadron vehicle operations to support the chapel programs and they always try to accommodate our needs. The chapel landscaping is well-maintained and attractive day in and day out which is easy to take for granted. The civil engineers apply their expertise in the event of a chapel facility maintenance issue, and it is usually resolved in a very short time so services can proceed as normal. I work in a safe, gated community thanks to security forces. I have access to a fitness center with state-of- the-art equipment available that supports my workout routine and it's all free for my wife and I to enjoy. I can shop at the commissary and I've got more than 50 breakfast cereal options to choose from, and this is just one category of food items! This list of blessings could go on and on, so, what do I have to complain about? Consider how life could be if we did not have these benefits and the support from other base agencies?

A recent study underscores the importance of gratitude. The research found that grateful people, those who perceived gratitude as a permanent trait rather than a temporary state of mind, tended to take better care of themselves and lead healthier lifestyles. Grateful people manage stress better and tend to be more optimistic - a characteristic that researchers say boosts the immune system. I would add that grateful people are resilient people as this attitude enables them to bounce back from difficult experiences, disappointments and losses in life; gratitude helps people see beyond the problems of today and restores their hope that things will get better tomorrow.

Throughout American history, religious leaders, political figures, and presidents have called for national holidays to express gratitude and thankfulness to God. President Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, designated the fourth Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving. Remember that he made this proclamation in the midst of the civil war between the states. Consider the devastation, human suffering, and loss that both the North and the South were experiencing due to this war, yet, in the opening sentences of his proclamation, Lincoln identified specific areas where the nation had prospered throughout the year, then he encouraged them to pray for healing, restoration, peace and unity.

Although we are not facing the same strife as the Civil War, Lincoln's example is still valid today. It encourages us to look up and look beyond our immediate circumstances. We will always have various problems and life will never be perfect, but "Thanks Living" needs to become a pattern of life not only on Thanksgiving Day but throughout the whole year. So I would like to know, what are the good things in your life that you are grateful for today?