Faith, Politics, and Transitions in Brussels

Gratitude and the Shape of a Worldview


It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. — Abraham Lincoln, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” 1863

Today is a great day. In the land of my forefathers, today is a day of gratitude, thanksgiving, and all sorts of food. Today is a day where families gather, good food is prepared communally, served, and eaten together. Around a common table, people will often express in words things they are grateful for. In that regard, it is a special day, but it is a practice we could and perhaps should do regularly.

A wise woman I know used to say quite often, “How we talk about things is how we think about things.” I have never told her so, but she would find a great friend in Sigmund Freud. Their ideas are similar: human expression both reveals and shapes our perception of events, of people, and of our life-experiences. If this is true, which I believe it is, whether or not we express gratitude regularly becomes a paramount issue, an issue of identity and of world-view.

In what could be critiqued as a false dichotomy or an over-simplification of the matter, we can either look at things with the lens of abundance or lack. Or perhaps better, with a belief in the gratuitousness of things or in their scarcity. Or perhaps best, we can either be grateful or cynical.

If we come to our life in this world with the lens of cynicism, what do we see? Problems, more often than not insolvable. Disappointments, some of which life-alterringly bad. Threats and fears, which paralysis and dominate. Cynicism envisages nothing, creates nothing, grows nothing, builds nothing. In a world-view colored by cynicism, the world is dark and dangerous or lonely or faded and jaded. Cynicism would see the great ones of this world sitting, defeated, in the dark of their studies or offices, huddled around themselves dreaming of what could have been and never will be.

What happens in a world and in a life colored by gratitude? We encounter opportunities at every turn, even in our own disappointments (which to the cynic appears as naivety). In a life lived with gratitude, problems become situations, from which something can be built or reformed or enhanced. Gratitude creates believers, people who devote uncountable amounts of life-energy to projects, goals, and creations, because they believe. Nothing has ever been made by a cynic; everything has been made by someone filled with gratitude over the gratuitousness of being.

Gratitude begins in acknowledging the miracle that there is something rather than nothing. And that some of this something is good. From this disposition towards the goodness, the beauty, and the truth of things, good, beautiful and sincere lives can be lived. This is enabled by gratitude. Gratitude accepts the play of things, enjoys and celebrates it, even in suffering (especially in suffering, although enjoying and celebrating look different). Gratitude loves the world.

May we love the world; may we open ourselves to being grateful and not cynical. May we discover in gratitude the moments of life that express truth, beauty, and goodness. May we create. May we laugh. May we love. May we weep with those who weep, because we grateful — for life, for companionship, for the fact that real life hurts. And may this not be merely an annually occurrence, but a daily discipline and practice.

— Jeremy