I started this blog at Thanksgiving 2010 and wrote about gratitude in Real Thanksgiving – Better Love. At Thanksgiving 2011, actually the week before Thanksgiving, I wrote more about gratitude, chapter two. Little did I know that the next week I would experience what I refer to as my Black Thanksgiving. I wrote some about that at Thanksgiving 2012, in Changes in the Year Following Black Thanksgiving. But this year I want to examine the role of contentment in thanksgiving.
I think that contentment is at the heart of being able to give thanks, and is equally at the heart of being able to be happy. Now I don’t mean that you must be content or satisfied with whatever you have right now, or where you are. Nor do I mean that you have to set your expectations so low that they are always met. Rather, what I mean is that we can be content with what we have and still want to improve and still set goals for that improvement. We have to be content and appreciate what and who we have, where we are, to be able to really feel and express gratitude. And gratitude is necessary to give thanks.
So what is it that most hinders our ability to be content? Of course there is materialism and wanting more than we really need, beyond a reasonable and logical improvement. But there is a bigger factor, one that materialism comes from – that is comparing and contrasting ourselves with others. I don’t think we can help but compare ourselves to others to some degree, but the problem comes in when we pick out one aspect of someone else’s condition and see that as a standard to define where we wish we were, financially, professionally, or in our relationships.
A by-product of comparisons is complaining. I have talked in the past of emotional vampires that literally suck your emotional blood from you with their issues and problems, yet never have an interest in what is going on in your life. They are takers and not givers. But the constant complainers are more subtle and therefore more insidious. I think I will call these folks contentment leeches. The contentment leeches can always find something wrong with the job, their spouse, etc., but would rather share their discontentment than look for ways to make it better.
Allow me to share some more Spanish Medieval wisdom, from an 11th century Jewish poet-philosopher: He who seeks more than he needs, hinders himself from enjoying what he has. Seek what you need and give up what you need not. For in giving up what you don’t need, you’ll learn what you really do need.
He warns of seeking more than you need, not of seeking a reasonable improvement. It can be difficult for me to put aside what I don’t really need, and it often starts with coming to an agreement with my wife what is a need, or a reasonable want, versus something that is really not needed. The next step is to agree on the priorities of the different needs and wants, and finally, we both have to apply it to the relationship.
What about you – can’t you think of some things you really should be content with, and in turn be grateful for? The health of you and important others, the friendships and relationships you share? This is the perfect time of the year to express it.
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