Thanksgiving is soon approaching and there is so much good food to look forward to in the upcoming days. Thanksgiving, much like the Sabbath, is a day on which we rest and look back on all that we are grateful for. Yet despite the myriad of things that we can say we are truly glad to have in our lives, there are still things that nag at us underneath the surface. This nagging can take the form of planning out your shopping run for Black Friday, causing you to plan and stress when you should be enjoying the smoked ham in front of you. Perhaps it takes the form of an anxiety that your home is not clean enough, your work is not finished, or that book you have been reading is really not moving.
Maybe you have not even these small worries but found the results of the recent election underwhelming. In an election that just went to further emphasis gridlock, neither Democrats nor Republicans had an overwhelming victory. In my own life the day after the election was underwhelming. Politics happened, not much really changed, and partisans on both sides did not leave the election with any peacefulness or content. So politics continues to be an unending source of anxiety for those who get deeply invested in the polls.
I took an exam in an economics class that I did not feel well about, and I had the constant stress on my mind of when the grade would be returned. Even though it was a minor test, that small bit of stress made it hard for me to completely relax. Instead, even when I was content and restful with all other aspects of my life, the small amount of stress from the exam would shatter my peace. There are moments in life when deep stress is merited, but more often it is the little things that trap us in a feeling of restlessness. These tiny stresses in life can be completely consuming, leading towards a spiral of thoughts which descend into even greater anxiety. Often the more time we think about these small things, the larger and worse they appear to us.
Those few questions I did not know on my test can become a failing grade on the exam, which turns into a failing grade in the course, a college drop out, homelessness, dead on the street without anyone to notice.
This negative cascade of thoughts can be stopped by approaching life with an attitude of gratitude. Stepping back and realizing how small these concerns are, and how little they actually impact us, is an exercise in embracing the blessings we look over. Treating life with simplicity, in the sense that we do not seek to make things more difficult than they are, is key to flourishing in life (as Aristotle would have us do!) A deep breath and a moment of humble realization of our place in the world is the beginning of the path towards joy and thanksgiving.
Ultimately it is in God that we find our strength. Christ did not only come down to die for our sins and bring salvation, as wonderful as that may be! Christ also is here to walk with us in our journey in life, to be our brother to whom we can turn to when our fallen nature weighs us down. We must be like the pilgrim who casts off his burden of sin and runs with Joy through many a peril towards God.
“Hence the contemplation of truth assuages pain or sorrow, and the more so, the more perfectly one is a lover of wisdom. And therefore in the midst of tribulations men rejoice in the contemplation of Divine things and of future Happiness” (Summa Q38, Article 3, Answer)
Don’t let the thought of feeling like you are a victim of this world control your actions and make it impossible to relax. Instead of letting a concern about how something can go wrong dominate, think about what you can do, today, to make something right.