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Think Thanks



Any logic not founded in thankfulness is false logic--that's a quote I heard. I cannot recall the source, who deserves to be cited (and thanked.)

My history with thankfulness is a blank page from birth until 1978, when I heard a friend remark, "whenever I hear someone talk about 'thankfulness,' my ears perk up." That was John Shreve, and I remember it to this day. My reaction was, gosh, when I hear a reference to thankfulness, I want to take a nap. Talk to me about something that will make a difference, for pity sake, I thought. But I remembered.

A couple of years later I heard a sermon on thankfulness. And I thought: hmmmm... I have no experience of thankfulness, really. Of relief, perhaps, but not of thankfulness. Relief at a passing grade in Chemistry, relief at catching the last bus. Whew. But thankfulness is very different. That night I took a shower and practiced being thankful for the hot water.

And I started making a practice of thankfulness. Several elements were involved:

We choose where we live in our minds. And when we don't choose to be thankful, it's exactly as if we don't even have the good things in our lives. Every person reading this is breathing oxygen and living where a sunrise happens every morning. I assume a good God overhead and beside me Who loves me. Sometimes that feels like that's all I've got to work with, but really and truly, it's enough.

We teach our kids about "good choices." When I was raising kids, it was more about "don't do stupid stuff," but the principle is the same. Thankfulness, like forgiveness, is not a feeling, but a choice, and a crucial one. In times of stress and disaster, it's a difficult choice, but important, because it provides a starting point from which to deal with stress, even disaster. It's not like fighting a bullet wound with a band-aid (I can hear you thinking), but more like fighting infection with an odd little fungus that showed up in a culture plate and ate away at the staphyllococcus. Thankfulness is like penicillin: it eats up bitterness and pessimism.

Some people only experience thankfulness's evil converse, regret, best summed up in a Joni Mitchell song lyric: "Don't it always seem to go/that you don't know what you've got till it's gone?" The wife who complains for half a century about her husband's snoring, only to miss it dreadfully after he dies, is the classic example. But without a habit of thankfulness, regret will be our only relationship with the good things that pass through our lives.

Some people view thankfulness as a social nicety, like asking "may I be excused?" before getting up from the table, or writing a bread-and-butter note after a party. Just good manners. It's known to be good business practice to tell an employee something good they do before trotting out a list of complaints. In that case, it's not so much real thankfulness as a necessary precursor to what the boss really wanted to say.

That's not thankfulness.

Thankfulness is a logic, a framework, a way of seeing that doesn't eliminate the bad or the awful, but frames it. A frame contains something, provides a boundary. A good frame on artwork lets you see it properly.

Thankfulness is a starting point. With thankfulness as a starting point, a lot of destinations are within easy reach, because thankfulness presupposes that, whatever the circumstances, I have something here to work with. It's the MacGyver of virtues, is thankfulness. In contrast, if I start with self-pity, it's difficult to go anywhere but downhill. If I start with anger, it's easy to crash.

There are very few things in life I would say without hedging the statement with a disclaimer, but this is one: Reasoning that doesn't begin in thankfulness is false reasoning. Period. Because you're not seeing things truly and properly.



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