Why should Thanksgiving be not just a holiday but a way of life
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is a 500 year old word meaning “Thankfulness”. It has fascinated ancient, medieval and modern philosophers, and continues to draw interest from contemporary philosophers and psychologists. There is a strong link between spirituality and gratitude, and it’s no surprise that many religions strongly advocate for gratefulness as a way of life. According to Cicero, "Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others." I believe gratitude deserves all the platitudes and there is an urgent need to incorporate it in our daily lives.
The case for gratitude
In this modern age of everything at your fingertips, apps that bring you instant gratification, joy is the most ephemeral it ever has been. What’s worse? Content platforms like facebook have amplified negative emotions such as envy, worry, irritation, self-doubt at an unprecedented global scale and in real time. As you grow up, you tend to be less impressed by things, events or situations, but that shouldn’t rob you of joy you should experience. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, says
“Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present oriented.” There is a lot of scientific backing to these claims. e.g. Research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal—regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful—can significantly increase well‑being and life satisfaction. The Science of Wellbeing - one of my all time favorite courses also talks about gratitude as the centering phenomenon.
The meaning of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Day, annual national holiday in the United States and Canada celebrating the harvest and other blessings of the past year. It is important because it's a positive and secular holiday where we celebrate gratitude, something that we don't do enough of these days. I believe Thanksgiving has the greatest philosophical underpinnings of all the holidays in the world, and if anything it should be celebrated by more people, and not just as a holiday but as a way of life!
What I’m grateful for this year
Followed by 2020, the year 2021 boasted the promise of optimism, and it has largely delivered. Here are three things I’m grateful for this year.
Integrity of US Democracy - The 2016 election was marred by controversies of subversion of democratic process. This eroded public trust in government, and created an unprecedented level of divisiveness not just in the US but across the world. The endless investigations, while necessary to restore public faith, limited what as a nation we could accomplish and distracted precious resources away from pursuit of greatness. The 2020 elections and especially the results, were largely drama free, relatively speaking, and that’s a good thing. No president is perfect, but the fact that the president chooses to stay away from click-bait kind of headlines is a quality I deeply appreciate in any leader. To me, it indicates “heads down” work ethos.
Worldwide Vaccination Drives - While 2020 was all about applying modern mRNA technology to invent a vaccine for Covid-19, 2021 was all about the distribution. Never in the history of humanity, we had to deliver a vaccine to billions of people in a very short time frame, all the while, developing a fresher understanding of the virus, and constantly re-educating people about safety. This is as much of a scientific challenge as it is a management challenge, and I’m glad we rose up to this daunting task. This HBR article offers a great insight into what it takes to develop an efficient vaccination site. I’m grateful to see countries coming together and helping each other in efforts to increase vaccination rates.
Restoring Normalcy - It’s not back to pre 2020 normal, and I understand the unknown surrounding Omicron variant, but I wish to acknowledge all the progress I’ve experienced in our efforts to restore normal life. In fact, in many aspects, it feels like we’re there already! Kids have resumed in-person schools, extra curricular activities, play dates, and hobbies - it does feel like the normal childhood is back! Sports has always been an integral part of my life, both playing and watching. I’m grateful that tennis matches around the world with audiences are back. I’m also grateful that I’m able to play many indoor and outdoor sports that I love. Finally, the industry that was most impacted by the virus appears to be on its way back. Travel, which has always been an endeavor that widens my perspective and gives me deep inspiration. With some changes in the protocols, I’m grateful to be able to engage in travel especially in the second half of the year.
Amazing Books - I’m an avid reader, and this year I read books ranging from autobiographies to business non-fiction to deeply personal memoirs to sci-fi to philosophies. Here is the list of my favorites with a one line summary for each:
Personal History by Kathrine Graham - a Pulitzer prize winning work narrating Graham family history, The Washington Post and American Politics.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel - Dream a bold future, and then go ahead and build it, a uniquely optimistic view of innovation in America.
The Master Algorithm by Pedro Domingos - Machine learning, past, present and the future and the ultimate quest of the algorithm to rule them all!
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig - anyone curious about depression, human struggle and power of love, Matt bares his soul here. Not for the faint of heart.
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca - a practical guide to following stoic philosophy by balancing the realities of human life and ideals of stoicism which could appear cold and unrealistic.
AI 2041 by Chen Qiufan - imaginative blend of science and fiction told through 10 short but brilliant stories exploring AI’s challenges and its potential.
So my call to action to all of you is, celebrate Thanksgiving everyday - it will make you 10x happy!