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The question

Every year, we throw a big Thanksgiving spread and although it’s wonderful to have everyone together, it’s also a lot of work, especially as we get older. No one ever calls or e-mails afterward to say thank you. Is there any way to encourage some gratitude?

The answer

Embedded in the very word “Thanksgiving” is the very notion of gratitude. And it’s something that lately, when I look around – in my world anyway – I see very little evidence of.

Everyone complains about everything. My theory for the pandemic of ingratitude I see all around me: We’ve been at peace so long (not counting the war in Afghanistan – and I don’t discount that, believe me) we’ve lost a bit of perspective. Drop a bomb on us, ration chocolate and gasoline, reduce us to eating Spam for dinner, suddenly some of the footling problems people seem to complain so endlessly about might begin to shrink and even disappear.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for being bombed, for chocolate and gas rations, and Spam for dinner (although, if I’m being honest, I secretly find fried Spam delicious). But perhaps if we just kept the notions of these possibilities in mind we might set aside our picayune problems. I’ve often said “humility is the mother and father of all other virtues.” But gratitude may be up there on a par.

If you’re reading this, you’re alive. Let’s start there. Inhale, exhale, thank whatever powers you believe in for that.

And your parents, of course. My mother always used to say “I did my best with you, Dave. I wasn’t a perfect mother [she actually kind of was], but you know you weren’t born with a manual!”

My response was always: “Mom, you gave me the gift of life. I thank you for it in my heart every day. Everything else is a) gravy (metaphorically speaking, although the very word causes me to salivate around this time of year); b) up to me.”

My father was also a great inspiration in the gratitude department. He died in January. Toward the end he had not one, not two, but three tubes emanating from him (one for oxygen, one for food, one to drain fluid from his lungs).

But still grateful for every day he had “above ground,” as he put it (he’s still above ground but not in the sense he meant it – he’s now ashes on the mantel piece). His thing was: He knew he was loved, he had a bit of cash, roof over his head, children and grandchildren. What’s a couple of tubes?

Stoicism. Learned it from him or, let’s say, am still learning.

(Weirdest thing about Dad’s death, although this is not the moment to go into too much detail about it, but I feel like a) I’m still getting to know him; b) still learning from him. And since this is the theme of the piece let’s say I’m grateful for that.)

So: People, with your iPads and iPhones and whatnot, let’s be less entitled, perhaps, and more grateful.

Like a dog. And I mean that as a high compliment. Dogs are – most of them anyway – four-legged vessels of gratitude. I met one at the park whose “owner," or maybe I should say “human companion," said had been left in a cage in a lumber yard, summer and winter. Sweating in summer, shivering in winter. If someone remembered to throw him part of a half-eaten muffin, it was a miracle.

Somehow, he was rescued. Now: Happiest, most gratitude-filled mutt you ever met. Full of joie de vivre, sprezzatura and any number of other foreign-sounding words that could capture the essence of a canine prancing around, licking people’s faces.

I always used to say when my kids were in their mid-teens they “put the attitude in ingratitude.” But, mirabile dictu, they grew out of it and speaking of virtues when it comes to offspring patience is up there, too. Just wait in the tall grass and wait for them to come around.

Another suggestion: If your duties are weighing too heavily, maybe suggest a “pot luck.” People love to be able to contribute, it gives them a project and also eases your burden and sense of being hard done by. Win-win.

Meanwhile, be grateful for the blessings you have. Whatever may be lacking or injurious or sucks in your life, if you are reading this, you are alive. You are inhaling and exhaling. My father can’t read it. He cannot inhale nor exhale. But continues to be blessed, even in death.

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