One day has been set aside for counting the blessings this land has offered for centuries: Thanksgiving. And yet, Americans today seem to have lost their mojo. Grumblings include the excuses of war, political division, and recession. Where did we hide the joy?
This country has been through hard knocks before, and still people managed to feel blessed. The Great Depression was a brutal time; WWII separated families and led to the loss of 400,000 service members. The Vietnam conflict dragged on for nearly two decades, but people still felt connected and were grateful. And let’s not forget the patriotism that inspired millions to unite after 9/11.
This nation is not at war. And that is one of the greatest gifts that should be shared.
The Greatest Generation
Today’s recessive economy may have had you feeling knocked down a few times, but your great-grandparents lived through the Great Depression. It was a brutal era for 15 million people who couldn’t find work. It was devastating for farmers whose crops were blown away in the Dust Bowl and for the 1.8 million American people of Mexican descent who were victims of repatriation drives. They kept their sanity and hope alive by engaging in competition and silliness.
Dance marathons were popular, as were pole sitting and soap box derbies. But the silver screen was the easy draw in well-heated or cooled theaters. It was escapism at its finest, with comic relief from the Marx Brothers and the romance of Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. The game of Monopoly was born; the funny pages, chock full of political propaganda, were still the morning chuckle. Of course, even those struggling the most had a radio to listen to the president deliver fireside chats, assuring there could be a chicken in every pot, or to listen to baseball and get up-to-date scores and stats, or to listen to Gracie Allen and George Burns yuk it up each week.
Americans are a plucky bunch – or, at least, they were. As food, gas, and clothing were rationed during the war, those on the home front scrapped metal for the effort, combined resources with neighbors and friends in the community, and still put a bird on the table. Ration cards were issued to every family, and the message from the War Department resonated: “Do with less – so they’ll have enough.” Having just lived through an economic depression, people adjusted, survived, and had a positive outlook.
As Studies Go …
University academics always need something to study, and how people stay happy is something Harvard University has been recording since 1938. Key findings throughout generations boil down to avoiding conflict, surrounding yourself with a few close friends and family, and keeping a healthy lifestyle.
Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard University, is now overseeing the 84-year-long study that started with Harvard students in one study group and disadvantaged and troublesome boys in the poorer parts of Boston. Every year, each of the 724 participants was contacted and given questionnaires. There are tens of thousands of pages of data, and Waldinger says being able to count on those relationships, that someone has your back, is what keeps joy alive and well.
If you believe in science and history, we lack the spirit that inspired and saved generations before us. It gave new purpose to immigrant families and kept our soldiers going during the wars fought for our own freedom and that of our allies. By the grace of God, we are American. This Thanksgiving, remember what we are made from: Good, hearty, persistent, and patriotic stock. Find your friends, call your mother, for goodness’ sake, and embrace the blessings that surround us. How can we not be grateful?