Thanksgiving has come and gone and got us all thinking about the things in our lives for which we are grateful. Gratitude is one of the greatest human virtues. In many religions we are encouraged to make hundreds of blessings a day. But with Black Friday and now Cyber Monday being so closely tied with Thanksgiving, it got me thinking about what being grateful really means. This year most people didn’t even wait until early Friday morning to get shopping. The deals began at 10 pm the night before, literally cutting short our holiday meal and the time we were supposed to be spending giving thanks. In today’s culture, advertising seems to be the enemy of gratitude. We are bombarded with around-the-clock commercial assaults that tell us never to be satisfied with what we have. Black Friday being so closely connected to Thanksgiving is ironic to say the least. Or is it?
The dilemma I am having is this: Does seeking out something better need to mean that you are not grateful for what you have? Isn’t personal growth about not being satisfied with where you’re at and always reaching higher? Why not seek out a nicer television or car if it will bring you more pleasure? Why not seek to constantly grow your business if it means you can thrive financially? My desire to make things better for me, for my family, for the world, does not mean that I am not grateful for the blessings that unfold in my life every single day. In my tradition there was a great leader that once said “Always be happy, never satisfied.”
A new way to look at gratitude is as a way to improve your life. We can always strive to be better, to do better. Much like gratitude itself, it is a choice. We can choose to focus on blessings rather than burdens and it can transform your life.
Another approach is to live with two ideas simultaneously: “Things can be worse” or “Things can be better”. “Glass half full”, or “glass half empty.” One way makes you feel better about where you are and what you have been given, the other motivates you to improve it. In this approach, you need not make the choice. You can be grateful for your blessings all day long, and in between, work hard to make things better.
During this holiday season I am going to be grateful for my ability to hold two competing ideals side by side and not have to settle. I will embrace pleasure, yet seek meaning. I will be open to new ideas but know my own limitations. I will be humble, yet bold enough to do big things. I will be grateful, but never satisfied.