If appreciation is the most important ingredient for happiness, then Thanksgiving Day gives us a unique occasion to focus on what makes us happiest.
Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year.
Oh, sure, Christmas is grand, and I know it has many, many fans. I’m not knocking Christmas. But the Thanksgiving story is more important.
Easter has its fans, too. Rebirth is a wonderful thing, but I still say Thanksgiving is more important.
Yes, kids jump for joy at the thought of Halloween. I am sure they enjoy the costumes almost as much as the candy and chocolate, but the Thanksgiving story is even more important than overdosing on sugar.
Because the two most important words in the English language are “Thank You” – the ultimate in positive thinking. This is true for business success, for social pleasure, even for self-actualization.
The two most important words in the English language are “Thank You” http://t.co/AS7f5aXslt
— David Leonhardt (@amabaie) November 27, 2013
For business success, a thank you tells a prospect or partner that you are appreciative of what she has just done and that you are happy with them. It shows you have a genuine interest in that person and the business relationship.
For social interaction, expressing gratitude is equally important to show how you value the other person and the social relationship you have with him. “Thank you” is a bonding phrase.
But giving thanks is most important on a personal level for our own pursuit of happiness. This is true for anybody who has ever lived, but it is even more true for us today.
A Happy Thanksgiving of gratitude
Consider how much we have today. More than any of our ancestors, we live in The Land of Plenty. We have more than anybody who has lived at any time before. And for those of us who live in the developed world, we have more than most people on our little planet have even today.
I’m not just talking about our abundance of “stuff”. Oh sure, we have ten-foot tall digital color televisions with 594,798,345,691 channels and the ability to program them several light years into the future, the past and the 13th dimension. And we have computers that send us around the world faster than the speed of a turbo-jet on growth hormones. And we have 31 flavors of ice cream waiting for us on every second street corner. And we throw out more “junk” than we ever could find a use for in the first place.
But we have so much more than just ‘stuff’. Consider the following:
FREEDOM AND CHOICE: More of the world lives in a democracy than ever before, and democracy is becoming more open or “democratic” with every year (perhaps in part due to the Internet?). For most of mankind’s existence, democracy was as common as scale models of tourist destinations and automated toothpaste squeezers.
OPPORTUNITIES: With freedom and affluence comes opportunity. We have more opportunity to make money, to earn it the way we wish, to choose our careers, our location, even our lifestyle. Women have just about reached equality with men in most of the developed world, and more people are able to flee oppressive regimes for the Land of Milk and Honey. Actually, does that not sound like a continuation of the original Thanksgiving story?
KNOWLEDGE AND EDUCATION: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? With freedom, comes the ability to satisfy our curiosity: knowledge. And with knowledge comes a thirst for freedom. Let’s face it, the idea of “the ignorant masses” has become an anachronism. Even the dumbest among us has more knowledge than most people who lived a couple centuries ago. (I said more “knowledge”, not more “wisdom”, but that’s another topic.)
HEALTH: Just surviving past childhood used to be a major success. Now we expect to live comfortably into our 80s or 90s. And we expect – no, we demand – to have exceptional health care all along the way (even for those who are afraid to go to the doctor!).
Make every day Thanksgiving Day
This list could keep growing, but these are the major benefits I am grateful for living in twenty-first century North America. What does that have to do with Thanksgiving Day and happiness?
Well, follow this train of thought. Whatever you have, you can either appreciate or not. If you appreciate it — I mean really notice that you have it, that it is good, that you feel good about having it — it will bring you happiness. However, if you get used to it, take it for granted, and focus on things you don’t have, then whatever you do have just won’t bring you happiness; it is just part of the scenery, background noise.
Appreciation is the key to happiness. And daily appreciation is the key to daily happiness. Whatever you truly and proactively appreciate, whether “stuff” or education or a vacation or a nap (as I write this, there is nothing I would appreciate more than a nap!), will bring you joy. But in this fast-paced, dog-eat-dog, over-stimulated society, how can we appreciate anything?
Sadly, many of us who have the most to be grateful for express gratitude the least, and feel the least appreciation. It seems the more we have, the more we want. The more we want, the less we appreciate what we have. The less we appreciate, the less value there is to having anything, which may explain why we keep wanting more.
We who are drowning in luxuries and hold the world in our hands can’t seem to find the time to appreciate what we have … but we still make time to whine and complain. We still find things, however petty, to feed our negative thinking. How can we learn to appreciate our abundance and live a happy life?
The secret to feeling the appreciation we often overlook is in expressing our gratitude vocally or in writing. How can we possibly fail to appreciate something when we say “Thank you” for it and focus our attention on the appreciation? As I said earlier, “Thank you” are the two most important words in our vocabulary.
I offer several ideas on how to express gratitude in the Get Happy Workbook and my self-help book Climb your Stairway to Heaven: the 9 habits of maximum happiness, including keeping a gratitude journal, saying grace, practicing “bolsterism”, or just sending flowers, cards, or a thankful e-mail message – to name just a few ideas. Perhaps the most useful of all ideas is to make Thanksgiving Day every day – and really feel the gratitude.
Christmas is important. Easter is important. Halloween is important for the kids. But for our own personal happiness, there is nothing like a truly heartfelt Thanksgiving.
So have a Happy Thanksgiving today, and every day. And I invite you to express what you are grateful for in the comments below.
Read also: Last year’s Thanksgiving Day message.