Which way to a state of gratitude? 

Mapping out Thanksgiving

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We have so much. So very, very much.

So much food — good food, clean food. Food from a million and one sources all over the world brought to our doorsteps, or at least our grocery store shelves, with very little effort on our part. Food for the most part free from germs and bacteria and the travails of hunting and killing, or hoeing and tilling. Food for our delight and, if not our delight, at least our good nutrition.

So much good nutrition. Over-nutrition. So much good health. And good shelter. Roofs over our heads, providing coolness and shade when we're too hot, and warmth when we're cold. Plus so many hats and shirts and jackets and wooly socks doing the same.

We have so many toys, so much stuff for fun. Games, computers, iSomethings. Dirt bikes. Mountain bikes. Skis, boards, skates. And so many places to go and so many ways to get there. Our own cars and trucks and motorcycles — several in a family, sometimes. Cruise ships like small cities, and comfortable trains and buses and planes. Endless forms of transportation capable of whisking us anywhere in a blink, bringing family and friends together across thousands of kilometres, all for the price of a ticket that most, for the most part, can afford.

So much, so very much goodness inhabits our lives, and yet it seems we have so little time and even less inclination to be grateful when here we are, living in a world of luxury beyond that which kings and queens of medieval Europe took to be theirs.

In its simplest and most primary definition, "gratitude," by the Oxford English dictionary, means the quality or condition of being thankful. It comes from the Latin gratia, meaning "favour" and gratus meaning "pleasing." "Gratuity", "gratefulness" and all the other words we have that stem from this Latin root have to do with "kindness, generousness, gifts, the beauty of giving and receiving, or getting something for nothing..." writes Paul W. Pruyser in The Minister as Diagnostician.

But it's that first, more fundamental state of being thankful that I have in mind as we approach Thanksgiving.

Margaret Visser, brilliant essayist that she is, put out a fascinating book a few years back on the topic — The Gift of Thanks: The Roots, Persistence and Paradoxical Meaning of a Social Ritual. In it she unpacks the many threads entangled with gratitude in Western culture, including the way in which we "bring up" our children to express gratitude as well as how we expect it returned.

I was curious to read that in a blind study of middle class children and their families, mothers were much more polite than fathers, spontaneously saying "thank you" 50 per cent of the time during periods of play when the whole family was being observed, as opposed to fathers saying it only 18 per cent of the time. Perhaps this accounts in part for the absence of an overall sense of gratitude in our still patriarchal culture.


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