In freshman year English, my teacher Beverly Conway used to call Fridays Jiggle Day. On Jiggle Day, she would tell us to remember to "jiggle," and have us list things that we were grateful for. Even though it seemed a tad silly then (and it still does now) I think Jiggle Day is a lovely exercise for keeping in mind the things that we are thankful for, and several years later I still do a similar thing (although not always on a Friday, and I don't call it "jiggling").
"Jiggling" is also a particularly important thing to remember to do, as it's pretty easy to forget all that we should be grateful for and how lucky we are, and instead be tied up with the nitty gritty minor things. A slow internet connection or a late subway or a particularly slow pedestrian can all make us angry and upset, and we forget all the things that we ought to be thankful for.
I am reminded of what is probably my favorite passage from Brian's Winter by Gary Paulsen:
Just that, escaping from the plane alive—that was luck. And to be able to live and learn and know things, to be able to hunt, to be thankful for the animals’ lives that had been spent to keep him fed, to be thankful for the deer and the moose, lord, the moose like getting a whole food store and to be thankful for his shelter and knife and the hatchet . . .
The hatchet. The key to it all. Nothing without the hatchet. Just that would take all his thanks.
And every stick, every twig of wood that burned to keep him warm and his sleeping bag and Betty saving him from the bear and the chickadees that hung around the camp and the sun that brought each new day . . .
In this passage, Brian is eating his Thanksgiving dinner several months after his plane crashed in the woods, leaving him alone to survive through the summer into the cold winter, and he is angrily thinking about what he has to be thankful for. I think most of us have been in similar situations. We don't have to be stranded on a deserted island to have problems, and a lot of the times we worry about the problems we have and forget the big things we should be thankful about. Just like Brian, we wonder what we should give thanks for (although a plane crash seems like a pretty good justification to wonder that), but just like Brian, we should also remember and count our blessings.
This is not to say that these problems are minor- after all, being stuck in an uninhabited forest is a very real issue, and there are many things in life that aren't as easily laughed off as a waiter getting your order wrong. There are plenty less fortunate than us, and being in a position to be thankful ought to warrant us doing so.
But that is not the only reason we should be thankful, because even if there were no starving African children for our mothers to remind us of during dinner time, we should still be thankful for a full plate and a full belly. Gratitude does not come from a comparison against others, but rather a genuine appreciation of what you have, independent of anyone else.
But we all have something to be thankful for.
I'm reminded of a guy in my high school a few years ago who was grinning in class for no apparent reason. When a friend of mine asked why he was smiling, he said
因為我活著。(Because I'm alive).
What a lovely reason to be happy! Because you are alive.
Sometimes we get tied up with the blemishes and the irritants that come with being alive, like having to commute (this post was born in the midst of a crowd of angry afternoon commuters) or having to do laundry, and we forget our big, permanent, reason to be happy- we are alive.
This sentiment is reflected rather pessimistically by Andy in the office:
And again (my personal preference) much more optimistically and nicely by the author Sidonie Collete:
What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I realized it sooner.
Finally, one of my favorite Zen Pencils comics and Vonnegut quote (who struggled with depression for most of his life):
If this life isn't nice, I don't know what is! If you can read this, you have a reason to be happy, and take the time to look around you everyday and remember that.
A very good friend of mine once told me to consider this scenario:
If tomorrow morning God came and took away everything you were not thankful for today, what would you be left with?