tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Gratitude has never been more important

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and there has never been a country that needs a day devoted to gratitude more than the 21st Century United States of America. Gratitude is the virtue which can save us from drowning in excessive want.

Even though Americans have more stuff than any other people on the planet, we want more than most other people. From a young age, Americans are taught to want -– to want what we don’t have and to want more of what we already have. The Madison Avenue advertising professionals get at children through commercials during those Saturday morning cartoons. Advertisements in magazines and elsewhere are very influential on teens. I heard one economist say recently that the average American teenager spends $480 per month!

These kids and teens, of course, grow into adults who want more than anyone. They want bigger cars, fancier houses, better clothes, tastier food, more exotic travel -– you name it, we want it! Never mind that no one really needs any of this stuff, nor can most of us afford it. Debt levels are at record highs, yet people keep buying and buying and buying. Reason has been replaced by materialism and practicality has been replaced by consumerism. Sometimes I think we are in the process of spending ourselves straight to hell.

This is why Thanksgiving Day is so important. This is a day we say "thank you" to God for what we have. We have set aside one day a year to think about what we have instead of what we want. And most of us have plenty. Even the poorest Americans live better than most people who have ever walked the face of the earth. Typical Americans live richly blessed lives. Many of us are lucky enough to have family and friends, a home and a job, a college education, good food and simple entertainment. These are tremendous blessings.

I am convinced that the more one focuses on what they have, the less they are likely to focus on what they want. The more a person thanks God for the blessings of life, the less likely a person is to gripe about what he doesn’t have. When you take some time to think about all that you have, the idea of wanting a faster car or a bigger TV set really seems pretty silly. When you think about what a tremendous blessing your spouse and kids are, you realize that it doesn’t really matter whether you have a new set of golf clubs or the latest computer gadget.

Someone once said it is better to want what you have than to want what you don’t have. I think that is the definition of gratitude -– want what you have. Be grateful for your blessings.

Gratitude is a virtue which can be cultivated in every human heart. Gratitude does not necessarily come naturally; you have to work at it. Begin by saying "thank you" at every opportunity. Then take a little time everyday to think about all the blessings in your life. Think about all that you have. Look around you and realize that all that stuff is only there by the grace of God. We can start to do this on Thanksgiving Day. If we do this everyday, we can break out of this country’s seemingly endless, materialist, downward spiral.

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