“It isn’t what you have or who you are
or where you are or what you are doing
that makes you happy or unhappy.
It is what you think about it.”
We are entering the season where everyone we know wishes us happiness, merriment, and good fortune. Greetings fly as freely as golden leaves showering down from the Ginko trees on DoG Street in Colonial Williamsburg.
We send our own flurry of “Happy Thanksgiving” wishes to everyone we encounter. It is the catch phrase of the week to the checker at the grocery store, the clerk who sells us coffee, and every neighbor we meet out walking.
But do those wishes for happiness actually penetrate into our heart? Do we feel that glow of happiness from the inside out?
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more.
If you concentrate on what you don’t have,
you will never, ever have enough”
I know many who are feeling anxious this holiday season, and too many struggling with grief.
We are inundated with images from the California fires. We are still haunted by the enormous losses neighbors across the country have suffered in recent years from storms, fires, floods and shootings. We pray for those immigrants caught on our Southern border without shelter this Thanksgiving season right along with those camping in Southern California after losing their homes in the fires.
Five minutes spent scanning headlines or watching the news is enough to drain the happiness right out of anyone. Our national narrative is like a J.K. Rowling dementor that sucks the warmth and happiness away.
“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough”
We believe that we are living in unusual times; the troubles we face unique in history. That is not the case. We are swept up in the currents and eddies of a long river of human history, much of it far worse for everyday folks like us than anything we might experience, now.
Despite the bleak news around us, we are also surrounded by stories of kindness, hope, good fortune and great joy. President Lincoln was deep in the weeds of his own Civil War between the states, struggling with the great purpose of keeping our states together as one nation, when he declared a day of Thanksgiving in 1863. He asked all Americans to come together on one day in gratitude for teh many blessings and resources our country shares. He asked his neighbors to shift their focus to a higher power, and a higher purpose for our country.
Abraham Lincoln understood the simple truth about mental focus. We can change our lives by changing the focus of our thoughts, our mental energy.
“A quiet secluded life in the country,
with the possibility of being useful to people
to whom it is easy to do good,
and who are not accustomed to have it done to them;
then work which one hopes may be of some use;
then rest, nature, books, music,
love for one’s neighbor —
such is my idea of happiness.”
Maybe that is why Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It is a celebration of abundance in all its forms. It is a day for reflection. It is the quintessential ‘low stress’ holiday.
It is enough to have a quiet day to enjoy with loved ones. There is a special meal. One may see friends or relations one hasn’t seen for a while. There are stories, there is laughter, there is expectation of the holiday season that debuts on this day.
The first holiday lights appear cities, in neighborhoods and along country roads.
There is a feeling of contentment and abundance and connection. For a few golden hours, we can be content with ourselves, wherever we may find ourselves.
“I am content; that is a blessing greater than riches;
and he to whom that is given need ask no more.”
And so I wish you, too, a happy Thanksgiving. I hope your thoughts linger on the many things that make you happy and enrich your life.
If you are grieving, I hope you remember the good times with your loved ones and feel deep gratitude for those times you shared. If you are away from loved ones, I hope you can touch with them today. If your life circumstances have shifted, I hope you find the beauty around you, wherever you might be.
Our happiness comes from within, not from without. This is the life lesson we discover as the decades roll past.
And this is what we rediscover each autumn, as the leaves fall and the world grows cold. The most abiding warmth emanates from a loving and grateful heart.
“We are not rich by what we possess
but by what we can do without.”