By Bishop Arthur Serratelli
Some psychologists today have begun speaking about “a culture of anxiety.” The fast pace of modern living, the constant exposure to media hype, blitz marketing tactics coupled with the uncertainty of our economic and political future: all these lead to stress, worry and anxiety. The constant stream of text messages, non-stop phone calls and daily traffic jams likewise add to our stress level. Today almost 40 million Americans are suffering from some form of stress-related disorder.
Stress and anxiety take their toll on our mental health. They prevent us from focusing our attention on our work and on our relationships. They lock us in the prison of our own worries. Stress and anxiety negatively impact our physical health. When anxious or stressed out, we can face a loss of appetite, diminished sleep, lack of energy at work and tension in our relationships with others.
However, researches are now discovering that “an attitude of gratitude” actually improves our health, both in mind and body. Gratitude is a positive attitude that directs our attention to what is good in our lives. It helps us enjoy and cherish the happy moments. It opens us up to forming strong relationships with others. It uplifts our hearts and puts a spring in our steps. An attitude of gratitude puts us at ease. It bolsters our immune system and enables us to more effectively ward off disease.
The pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock knew stress and anxiety. They had set out to reach the New World, fearing that they would lose their religious freedom. For sixty-five days, they faced rough seas and storms. Not able to reach their initial destination, they finally landed at Plymouth Harbor in mid-November of 1620. Their first months in the New World added to their worry and stress. As they went about carving out a home from the wilderness, they struggled through a bleak winter. More than half of the original settlers died. With the coming of spring, they planted crops, made friends with their new neighbors and enjoyed the produce of their hard labor.
As those first settlers faced the approach of a second brutal winter, they gathered their first harvest in the fall of 1621. Because they firmly believed that God had not abandoned them, they set aside a day to thank him. They gathered together with family, friends and neighbors to enjoy the good things that God had given them. Thus, the attitude of gratitude that had sustained them in times of prosperity and adversity gave birth to the first Thanksgiving Day.
As we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, it is good to remember how important it is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude that goes beyond one meal on one day. Martha Washington once remarked saying, “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”
No life is without suffering and hardship. But, God is present in every circumstance. Focusing our attention on what we have and not on what we want helps us realize how good God is to us. Our giving thanks to God, not just on one day, but every day, opens our eyes to his blessings, our hearts to his love and our bodies to his healing grace.