What is gratitude?
Is it a life-enriching emotion? An attitude of thankfulness? Or just being aware of gifts received and the blessings of health, freedom, beauty, family?
This month, we have just celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving by recalling that feast long ago when we visualize Pilgrims sharing a meal or several days of feasting with the Native American tribe that helped them survive their first winter.
Today, many still gather to celebrate the occasion with a family dinner of turkey and all the trimmings. Some may have included the ritual of having everyone at the table state what they are most thankful for during the past year. Perhaps a family tradition was to enjoy a football game or two after dinner, or to take a trip to the mall and take advantage of a good sale or to see a new movie before returning home for a turkey sandwich.
As I have been reflecting on the delights and disappointments of my past 79 years, I find a long list of reasons to both be thankful and feel guilty about the times I have allowed myself to dwell on the disappointments. I am not proud of this character flaw. Maybe I am just struggling with the challenges of this time of life. For sure, I have been blessed with fantastic friends and family, opportunities and blessings more than I can name.
Sometimes I am reminded of the attitude of entitlement fostered by the words in an old commercial that tunefully stated. "You deserve a break
today." Really now, what do I truly deserve in this life?
Fortunately, I often do not get what I really deserve —for example, when I act with rudeness or irresponsibility and cause hard feelings or aggravate or cause a health problem, totally ignoring my real needs as well as the needs of others. I believe that the attitude of gratitude and the act of giving thanks are both
caught and taught in conversations that show appreciation for kindness, as well as for the gifts of nature and community.
In days gone by, it was the custom to send an old-fashioned "thank-you note" to show appreciation for a gift. Actually, as a kid I did not enjoy writing the notes. But as an adult, I have a different view of their importance. I confess to having been frustrated by not hearing a word from grandchildren after I've sent a special birthday or Christmas gift. I really want to know that my gift has been received and hope that the gift has been enjoyed as well.
Knowing that address books, the postal system and stamps are not the most important items in the realm of young people today, I have decided to include with each package a self-addressed stamped envelope or postcard. When I get back a postcard — or even better, a bona fide letter — with news of the kid's life, I am totally ecstatic. Cheers erupt when I get a darling phone call from my college-age granddaughter. There is always one kid who waits three months before cashing my birthday check or never acknowledges the gift in any way, but I am still grateful for the opportunity to try to connect.
Granted, means of communication of "yesterday" and "today" are quite different. I realize that I must learn to send texts, to scan Facebook and Messenger if I want to really keep up, and also to send more positive messages recognizing the wonderful people in my life.
I hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday and that your future is filled with giving thanks as well as receiving thanks.
Jeanie Oakleaf Anderson is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.