What does it mean to have an attitude of gratitude? Why must it be Thanksgiving to give thanks? I for one, learned a long time ago, that to express gratitude the first thing every morning, and the last thing every night is the only way to true happiness.
I learned a long time ago, how to live life the wrong way. For the first 23 years of my life I was so self-absorbed and thought the world revolved around me; in my mind it did. In everyone else’s mind, I was a pitiful selfish, ungrateful young woman who lived in the demented world of entitlement. I thought my parents, my family, my school, community and the whole world owed me the gift of happiness. I found out on my third suicide attempt, there was no one else who could give me that gift – and very few who had found it themselves!
Last week one of my best friends from high school died unexpectedly. Her daughter came home and found her. Many of us have all been in a state of shock in one way, but in another way no one was really surprised. As teen-agers Jan and I had run away together, got kicked out of school together, partied together, attempted suicide together, and because of the love and desperation of our parents, went to psychiatrists separately. Neither of us grew or changed from that experience.
I went on to college to party; Jan got pregnant. We both hit our independent lows but at least kept moving on. For me, faith became the big change agent in my life. I tried to tell Jan how much of a change I had gone through and how I had truly found happiness for the first time in my poor miserable existence. But she didn’t want to hear about it and said it wouldn’t last. Twenty years later she accused me of trying to preach to her. I am sorry now that I backed off because I saw her deteriorate through the years and knew there was nothing I could do about it.
Later, she went on to college and became a nurse; I got married and became a teacher. Although we parted paths through the years, we saw each other at occasional hometown and school reunions. Every time I would ask her how she was doing, she would fake a smile and say, “Still miserable. But don’t preach.” So I didn’t. Tomorrow, my brother Duke will preach her funeral, and her daughter who looks and talks just like Jan did, will cry along with everyone else for a life so discontent.
When you think about the fact that we as Americans are in the top 5 percent of the world financially, why is it that we are so ungrateful? Most of us have everything we need, whether we have everything we want or not. Having traveled in over 60 foreign countries, many of them third world countries, I am shocked at how I sometimes meet some of the happiest people in the slums of such countries. What makes the difference? I truly believe it is because of what I love to call an attitude of gratitude. I was one second away from death when I felt like somebody hit me over the head and the scales dropped from my eyes. I was so grateful I didn’t go through with it, suddenly grateful for my family and friends and found myself thanking God for the first time in many years!
Jan came from a wonderful family. Her father was a doctor and her mother was nurse. She and all of her siblings were college graduates. She had married, moved to Texas, and her daughter was the love of her life. She was smart, funny, kind, and would give anyone literally the shirt off of her back. She chose nursing as a career to help others.
But Jan couldn’t help herself. She never got past her inner hurts and wounds, her insecurities and her state of discontent. She was grateful for certain things, but not grateful for the gift of life. She didn’t live in an attitude of gratitude. There is a saying that “whatever a person believes determines what he does.” Jan was the first to admit she had tried everything in this world to be happy, but had never developed an attitude of gratitude.
We are all guilty of blaming others; many times with due reason. We have also all been guilty for hurting others, often without due reason. But life is too short and way too fragile to not live every day in forgiveness and gratitude, in a state of wonder,and in a spirit of reverential awe.
Yes, we celebrate Thanksgiving once a year with family and a big fat turkey in honor of our forefathers, our country and our many blessings. But if we live with an attitude of gratitude we can celebrate 365 days a year, until that last dying breath, which will also be one last breath of thanksgiving, as we step into an even more glorious place where we truly experience thanks-living!
Debra Peppers, a professional speaker for 25 years, was one of only five inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame upon her retirement from Lindbergh High School. A member of the National Speakers Association, she has traveled to all 50 states and 60 countries teaching others that if she can go from being a 250-pound high school dropout, to Teacher of the Year there is hope for every child and adult. For info, visit www.pepperseed.org