Here’s my problem with Thanksgiving: the idea of formally giving thanks begs the question – to whom? The assumed answer (to god) is not a construct that holds meaning to me. Still, as I’m sitting down to turkey and trimmings, I feel drawn to something like a traditional grace: acknowledgement for the “blessings” (same problem: from whom?) of family, friends, food – of abundance. A way to publicly express appreciation for safe travels, fall leaves, new babies, old traditions. A moment of gratitude for plenty of red wine to go around, two TV’s so there’s a non-football viewing option, and not having to do all the dishes myself.
In other words: I’ve got gratitude. And I want to have a whole day in celebration of it. I want a way to share my gratitude with others. I just don’t want to have to give away credit for all the good stuff to some force outside of humanity. Part of what I’m grateful for is the way these things are given or created or accomplished or shared – by people. By what we do, and why we do it. Make my Thanksgiving a humanist thanks giving.
So add to the list of things that inspire gratitude in me: belonging to an Ethical Culture Society. Our Ethical Culture Society. Because even better than having one day a year in which to honor the richness of our lives — and the sources of that richness — is living in honor of that richness day by day. The Society gives me and my family a way to do that. I love having a place we come each week that provides a pause for reflection, a focus on values, encouragement toward the common good, and opportunities to bring all of the above beyond word into deed.
Social scientists are researching the connections between gratitude, happiness, compassion, love, generosity and other good things I strive to be and to have, fleshing out the relatively new field of “positive psychology.” I don’t need studies to tell me about the ripple effects of feeling grateful, though – my own experiences do the job. The more I dwell on all that I have, the more I want to give, whether it’s love, money, time, attention, understanding or a little something from my box of chocolates. Because when I think about it, I really have a whole lot of chocolates. And who doesn’t like chocolates?
The trick, though, is in that “when I think about it” part. It’s too easy to not think about it. I’ve got a lot of other stuff on my mind! But I know I can count on thinking about it at least once a week, when I walk through the doors at 7 Saxon Woods Road. And there’s something really powerful for me in thinking about it with other people who are also thinking about it – and putting it into practice.
At the Thanksgiving dinner I attend, we’ll take care of the thanks giving by way of toasts, rather than prayers, and that suits us. (And puts to good use that red wine I mentioned.) The following weeks I’ll be at two more events that to me are the key hallmarks of the season: the famous original Box Party at my mom’s house, and the Box Party here at the Society. In essence, gathering together to give back. When you’ve had a plentiful harvest, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.
– Colleen Kapklein