I’ve Got Plenty to be Thankful For
Last night I watched one of my favorite films, Holiday Inn. It’s what I have to do to get ready for Thanksgiving, and the Christmas season. It’s a great classic film, but if you decide to watch it based on my recommendation, be warned: there are a few really uncomfortable moments of… shall we say… cultural insensitivity. This is why they never show it on cable any more. In spite of that, nothing gets me emotionally prepared for Thanksgiving better than Bing Crosby singing, “I’ve got plenty to be thankful for.”
I know what you’re thinking… grammatically it should be, “I’ve got plenty for which to be thankful.” But somehow that wouldn’t fit as well. In fact, the movie gives us so many great lines like, “Boy do I go for those! They’re great on… or even plain,” “A slug out of the mug,” and “Man you were fractured,” as well as the phrase, “…rejoin the human race,” which I borrowed for my song One More Time.
Speaking of songs, I’ve got some videos on youtube of a couple songs based on the subject of gratitude. If you’ve got some time to kill, check out these live performances of the songs, If I Could Thank You and Taste & See. These songs were part of a set I did recently at a place called Daniel’s Den in Plano, IL. If you’re ever in the far southwest suburbs of Chicago, go check out their bookstore, On a Wing and a Prayer.
OK, back to Holiday Inn. This time I chose to watch the colorized version of the film, and I’ve decided to stop being against colorizing old films. They really did a great job with it, so much so that I completely forgot I was watching a colorized film. When it gets closer to Christmas, I’ll watch one of the movie’s spin-offs, White Christmas. In that film, Bing sings, “When I’m tired and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep… counting my blessings.”
That’s what it’s all about: gratitude. The happiest people in the world are the ones who have learned to be happy in a way that has nothing to do with money or possessions. In Holiday Inn, the character Linda Mason explains to Bing Crosby’s Jim Hardy that her father “never amounted to much” but was always able to provide for his family. Bing asks, “Were you happy?” Her answer is a sincere and wistful “yes,” to which Bing responds, “Then your father was a very successful man.” And therein lies the moral of the story.
Bing Crosby’s dream was to create an inn where life would be simple and he only had to work on the holidays. Others (including Fred Astaire’s character Ted Hanover) called him lazy because they couldn’t understand an entertainer who wasn’t interested in fame and wealth. Now, over sixty years after the film was made, the internet allows us all to be entertainers who dream of viral fame. But even more than that, we live in a world where many people can’t understand anyone who does not have the accumulation of wealth as an implicit goal.
But happiness is not about getting what you want, it’s about wanting what you have. It’s about learning to be content, rather than striving to be satiated. Now, don’t get me wrong. When that plate of Thanksgiving ravioli is in front of me, I will make no apologies for my desire to stuff my face. But in the big picture my life is not about accumulating things, but rather collecting experiences. In other words, I would rather do things than have things. Even if it means having less so I can do more (and do more for those who have less).
I think there’s a part of all of us that is afraid we’ll be cheated. Our default setting is always to be trying to get more than we deserve, just to make sure we don’t end up with less. The problem is we all have an extremely inaccurate idea about what or how much we deserve. Now, I’m not saying I’ve mastered this, or even come close to doing it right very much of the time, but in spite of my inability to work it out in practice consistently, I’ve at least figured out in my head that the way to be really happy is not to be worried about getting cheated. Instead the key to happiness is admitting that we already have more than we deserve, and learning to be ok with that. In other words, happiness is about learning to be grateful.
I talk a lot about gratitude in Spiritual Blueprint. I talk about redefining wealth as a lifestyle rather than possessions, and I talk about letting gratitude be what motivates you in life. I talk about what success really means. At the end of the book, I’ve got a suggestion for using regular rosary beads as a prayer aid for counting your blessings. This can be done by anyone (you don’t have to be Catholic, or even Christian) because you can make the prayers your own.
Speaking of prayer, let’s not forget to whom we are thankful. In fact, Thanksgiving is one of the few “religious” holidays that all religions can celebrate. But let’s not let this generic aspect of Thanksgiving tempt us to make it a secular holiday. So when you sit down to dinner – don’t forget to stop and thank God before you eat. Even in hard times, we all have more to be thankful for than to complain about. Maybe your family isn’t very religious or isn’t used to prayer before meals. Do it anyway, just this once. Be the one to suggest it, if you have to.
I know I’ve got plenty to be thankful for. I’m not going to list things here, because who wants to listen to someone else count their blessings? But at the very least I do not take for granted the fact that I have a job. At a time when so many people are out of work or underemployed, I’m so very thankful to be working, and in a job I love (I’ve had the other kind of job). I would also be a jerk if I didn’t mention my awesome wife. When I count my blessings, she’s number one.
One last thought. My idea of heaven is basically like being in a musical. Everyone will know the lyrics and the dance steps, and we’ll all break into song spontaneously.