By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
We are all unique individuals, which means that the factors that make us happy depend on who you ask. But, without a doubt, being grateful is one element that boosts happiness.
The ability to acknowledge a good, and to say thank you, is itself a virtue. It is a virtue because, in a world of many troubles, insatiable wants and never-enough mindsets, it’s sometimes tempting to overlook our blessings and focus on our lacks, our wants and our imagined needs. This type of thinking sucks the joy out of us, and sometimes it depresses us so much that we feel we have nothing to be thankful for.
One common characteristic of the Old Testament prophets is that they constantly reminded the people of Israel of how much God had blessed them through the ages. The people were reminded of how God brought them and their ancestors out from slavery in the land of Egypt, how he fed them with manna from heaven, how he fought their wars for them, etc. These reminders were very important because the people seemed to forget these blessings in a hurry. Once they encountered some problems or inconveniences, they whined and complained like nothing good had ever come their way.
In today’s world, we also need to remind ourselves constantly of the many blessings we receive from God every day. Unfortunately, most of the time we remember and recount our problems and our losses more than our blessings. This happens because we don’t always stop to consider many things in our lives as significant blessings. That we wake up alive, that we have a place to lay our heads, that my house is still standing and not razed by a storm, that I have something to eat – you get the idea. These are significant blessings that we need to be thankful for.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this month, we need to acknowledge the role that showing gratitude plays in our mental, physical and spiritual lives. Psychology researchers such as Robert Emmons have found that gratitude can have a soothing, or even a healing, effect on mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. It can also help improve our relationships and our physical health.
We can live out our celebration of Thanksgiving all year round by learning to practice the virtue of gratitude. We can learn to be grateful, and to demonstrate that gratitude by acknowledging the good around us and by vocalizing words of gratitude, by saying thank you. For us to learn to be thankful we must first of all acknowledge the blessings we have received. When we internalize and acknowledge the blessings within us, we can effectively appreciate and acknowledge a source outside of us that has contributed to the reasons why we should be grateful.
The first source of our blessings, the source to whom we owe gratitude, is God. That we are is because God is. We must learn to thank God for our very being. Our Common Preface IV of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass states that our thanksgiving adds nothing to God’s greatness. It rather increases and replenishes our blessings. Other sources of blessings for which we should show gratitude are our families and friends. Learning to appreciate our families and our friends not only solidifies our relationships, but also brings us peace and happiness.
We need to learn to count our blessings, not just our problems. We should develop a habit of sitting down with our families and friends and reminding ourselves of the countless blessings we receive each day, blessings that we sometimes take for granted. Like the Old Testament prophets, parents need to continually instill in the hearts of their children a recognition of how gracious God has been to them. They can do this by reminding themselves and their children of the many blessings they have received over the years.
Let us all make an effort to see and be thankful for all our blessings!
Father Jacob Dankasa is a parochial vicar at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Wylie.