This week's newspaper column

As a kid, I was bored by the notion of Thanksgiving. The Elders sometimes made us list the things we were thankful for before they let us dig into the turkey. I viewed the exercise as punishment. Let’s get it over with and dish up.

Perhaps I sensed there was some guilt involved. What I thought they were saying was, “You really should be more thankful, you ungrateful little brat. Do you know how good you have it? Don’t you appreciate everything we’ve done for you?”

Yeah whatever, Mom. Pass the dressing. Oh for gross! Why do you put celery in the dressing? You know I don’t like celery! Now I have to pick it all out. Yuck. Thanks a lot. I can’t believe you ruined the dressing again.

Not all adolescents are ungrateful, but the ones who are provide a vivid example of the misery caused by a lack of gratitude. I have come to believe that the misery is worse for the person who isn’t thankful than it is for the one who isn’t thanked.

It just kills some people to be thankful. When in the course of daily affairs common courtesy requires them to mumble “thanks,” they seem to resent the humiliation. Now they owe you, they think, and they don’t want to owe anybody.

Ungrateful people are miserable. In fact, all of us are made miserable to the extent that we can’t be thankful, particularly if we are unable to be grateful for just being alive.

Have you ever noticed how peaceful people can be who have survived cancer, or came through a head-on crash with minor injuries, or nearly got shot? Their close call made them thankful just to be alive, and that thankfulness spreads calm throughout their whole being.

Very little can bother a person who is thankful to be alive. Pull a miner from a cave where he’s been trapped for ten days, and is he worried about his hair? Is he mad at his wife? Is he angry at his foreman? Does he complain about his broken toe?

No, he’s exhausted but full of smiles. He kisses the same wife he complained bitterly about on the way to work that morning ten days ago. What a nag she was. Now she’s the most beautiful thing on earth.

He hugs the foreman he always cursed at the bar after work. He laughs off his broken toe. He loves being in the hospital. He charms the nurses. He makes quips to the doctors. He’s a joy to be around.

Some rescued miners maintain their fresh outlook on life. They patch things up with their relatives. They notice that they don’t worry so much. They enjoy the little things more. A friendly neighbor kid who used to annoy them. Their lazy old cat. A cold beer.

Other rescued miners lose their sense of gratitude. The lawyers come in and say, cut the happy stuff, you really should have $5 million for your suffering. Instead of being all thankful to be alive, you should be angry.

Thus, a person who was forced by a miserable situation to realize a great truth--that a grateful outlook is the key to peace and happiness--is made miserable again.

Those of us with boring lives can learn a lesson from those who have suffered. Being thankful for just being alive can cast a glow over everything you do, and can shrink even the largest problems into insignificance.

So, I have come to think the Elders at the Thanksgiving table were right, but for different reasons than I imagined back then. We shouldn’t give thanks just because it is what nice churchgoing people do. No, we should maintain a grateful attitude because doing so will make us better, happier people.