Nov 5, 2012

Gratitude versus Thanksgiving

By Kristen Adams

Turkey dinners being cooked in haste. Weary travelers stuck at airports. Moms crafting plans for  the best Black Friday sales. That's what the American thanksgiving has become. But this thanksgiving, I'm not content to just eat dinner and say polite thank yous. I want more. I want to feel real gratitude.

You may wonder: where is all this self-analysis coming from? I fear that I, as have many people, forgotten the whole concept of thanksgiving in our rush as a nation to prepare for the holidays. It's become a milestone until the end of the year, rather than a time for national gratitude, which is what the pilgrims meant by it. They celebrated the harvest together with those who showed them how to survive in their new home. It wasn't about families, it wasn't about turkeys or gifts, it was all about being grateful - and more importantly showing their gratitude in the best possible way.

But thanksgiving isn't an American concept (gasp!) nor is it anything new. Most world religions teach the importance of gratitude as one of the major issues of faith. For example, Christianity is rife with references to gratefulness to God, because man has been shown grace and mercy. The apostle Paul says "It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God." 2 Cor 4:15. Similarly the Old Testament tells believers: "The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;" Psalms 50:23. The lesson here: the true thankfulness is one which glorifies the giver, and humbles the receiver.
Judaism is big on gratitude too. The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat hatov, which means, literally, "recognizing the good." Jewish people know that being grateful implies not just giving thanks but also appreciating what they already have. If you get a new car, be grateful not just for it, but also for your old one which served you well all those years. If you're sick or poor, find other things in your life that are good. We all have them, we're just too focused on the one bad/sad thing. Similarly, Islam talks about gratitude a multitude of ways in the Quran; here's just one: "So remember Me, I will remember you; and be thankful to Me, and be not ungrateful towards Me." 2: 153. Of the 99 names or attributes of God celebrated by Muslims, Al-Shakoor or the Grateful One is very telling. God is the most appreciative, so should we be.  
So this thanksgiving I'm taking a page from not one but three scriptures, and expressing my gratitude, being humble, glorifying God and helping others. And I'm not going to do that just on Turkey Day, but everyday!
Kristen Adams is a freelance writer and a student of all religions. She lives in Katy, a suburb of Texas. The views expressed in this post are her own, and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.

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