Thankful Nots

No, the title is not a typo. Originally, I was thankful that I did not have to write a column this week. US Represented’s publisher and editor, Eric Stephenson, gave his blessing for me to do a rerun of last year’s Thanksgiving column. I thought I had said all I wanted to say on the subject last year and that was the end of it. But then this weekend reminded me that gratitude is a year round event even if most of us only acknowledge it once a year. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Obviously, the eating connection is strong for me. But when I was a child, I loved it because it was the only holiday when I did not have to go to church. An hour to an hour and a half is a long time for a kid with ADHD to stay still particularly when the liturgy was in Latin. Plus there was a ton of great food and I did not have to eat all of it. And I did not have to clean off my plate.

Abraham Lincoln, who had a lot to be sad about, once said that “Most men are about as happy as they want to be.” And in one of our country’s darkest times, he made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Lincoln was right. Exhibit A is that scientists have found that people who are happy practice gratitude often. No matter what their circumstances. But what about the Eeyores in our lives? How do we help them or ourselves be more grateful?

I taught for twelve years in an old school setting, just me and 28 students. I had my students write in a daily journal. The purpose was just to get them to generate text without worrying about content, grammar, etc. To provide focus, I gave them three assignments: a daily aphorism to decipher, a daily goal, and a success from the day before. After that, they were free to write anything. In the beginning of the year, most students struggled with finding success from the previous day. So I taught them the “NOTS.”

A student would raise his or her hand and loudly proclaim, “I can’t think of anything I did good yesterday.”

My reply was, “Did you make it home okay?”

The student nodded in the affirmative.

“Then NOT getting hit by a bus meant you looked both ways before crossing the street. That’s a success story. The highway is littered with animals who didn’t do as well as you did. Sometimes, the best success is what did NOT happen.”

Sadly, in the course of my teaching career, I had students who died crossing the highway, or in car accidents, shootings, and in various other mishaps. These true life incidents were common knowledge in our small community, and my writing students began to appreciate the “NOTS.” They even had some fun with it. Once a student wrote, “I did not get hit by an asteroid.” Since we had just studied dinosaur extinction, I found that particularly apropos.

I work in a correctional setting, and sometimes my students get depressed by their situation, particularly around the holidays. They tend to focus on not being with their families or not having a choice in food and entertainment. I try to help by reminding them of the good “NOTS” in their lives. They are not worried about their next meal or paying utility bills. They are not in a third world prison. In fact, when they think about it, their lives are better than a large portion of mankind. Just the fact that they do not have to worry about clean water, toilets, and hot showers is amazing. The most powerful kings and queens didn’t have these luxuries in the past. Not having to worry about these things makes them more fortunate than a significant number of humans. They do not even have to guess at when they will be free. They have a date for their release.

I tell them there are millions of people, like the Syrian refugees, who would trade places with them in a heartbeat. Syrian refugees are sleeping outside, no food, no water, no shelter, and no clue about when their situation will get better. A lot of the inmates understand what I am getting at and adopt a better attitude.

My gratitude from this past weekend is partly centered on success but also on the “NOTS.” We got a new car this weekend which is always fun. It is one we wanted, can afford, and enjoy. But it also means I do not have to worry about driving Ute Pass every day wondering about whether my old car will make it up the mountain one more time. It was a great car, but it was no longer dependable and was literally falling apart on me. The best news, however, was that our youngest son landed his career job. We are of course both happy for him and proud as heck. He will be doing cyber security for a major company. Which means that he is pretty well set for the rest of his professional life. As parents, we do not have to worry any more about our kids and their careers.

Most parents want their children to have better lives than the parents did. Not Kim and I. What we’ve always wanted was for our children to be happy. But we know that a big part of that is being a productive, contributing member of society. And having enough financial resources to not have to worry about day-to-day living. Because both of our sons now have these benefits, another stage of parenting is over for us. And, since we are not going anywhere for Thanksgiving, we do not have to worry about airports, weather, or traffic. We can enjoy the day thinking about all of the things we do not have to do. I would not trade this level of happiness for anything.