Learning to make thanksgiving a habit

The giving of thanks itself is one of life’s unremarked blessings.

My wife and I have the sweetest child any parents could ask for. (He’s also the smartest, the cutest, the most fun and has the best laugh and smile, but that’s for another column.) Take his concern, as expressed in our recent “conversation,” for his greatest obsession at 22 months of age: Daddy’s lawnmower.

Charlie: Mow?

Me: No, Daddy’s not going to mow the yard today.

Charlie, putting his hand to his head, like a pillow: Sleep?

Me: You think the mower is sleeping?

Charlie: Yeah. Ba?

Me: You think the mower needs a ba (pacifier)?

Charlie: Yeah. Blank-blank?

Me: You think the mower needs a blanket?

Charlie: Yeah. Book?

Me: You think Daddy needs to read the mower a book before it goes to sleep?

Charlie: Yeah.

He doesn’t just verify that the lawnmower’s needs are met as his are. He’s at the age where he wants his stuffed animals, and sometimes even his blanket, to eat crackers or drink milk whenever he does. Like I said, he’s a genuine sweetie.

We’re working on “yes” instead of “yeah” — Daddy needs to watch his own mouth on that one — and he volunteers a “please” maybe half the time.

But “thank you”? Our tenderhearted little boy hardly ever utters those words, even when prompted.

A big part of child-rearing is teaching the values and social mores that don’t come pre-loaded. But the child must be ready to understand the concept, and gratitude doesn’t seem to click instantly in the minds of young children, who begin life with a cry-till-Mama-makes-me-happy instinct.

I’m not talking about simple pleasantries to recite, like a perfunctory exchange of thank-yous with a sales clerk after you pay him for a pack of gum and he hands you the change. Nor the how-can-I-ever-repay-you kind of thanks that you might shower on someone who saves your life by giving you a kidney.

I mean the kind of intentional, habitual gratitude that, like all good habits, requires practice but ultimately becomes its own reward.

Americans these days, we’re good at the superficial and the dramatic — in a lot of ways — and that includes the giving of thanks. We’re way past being ready for a deeper understanding of the concept.

That’s what people are getting at, I think, when they lament a culture of entitlement and rising tendencies toward narcissism. Gratitude makes us more content with what we have, more inclined to turn our thoughts outward. In turn, it makes us more willing to reach out to others who are equally appreciative.

Please don’t think I’m being self-righteous here. I have my fair share of blockheaded moments of ungratefulness.

Example: the rainy night a couple of weeks ago when my car engine stalled.

When my wife arrived to pick me up, she found me very, ahem, frustrated. It was left to her to point out how lucky it was that the car made it until the rain had stopped and I had turned off Peachtree Street onto a side road, where I was able to steer into a store parking lot rather than blocking rush-hour traffic.

That’s the kind of spirit that prevailed in times past, such as when the Pilgrims took three days to give thanks even though they’d built more graves than homes over the previous year. And when President Lincoln made Thanksgiving a permanent national holiday amid the worst of the Civil War.

Luckily for Charlie, Mommy will probably teach him more lessons about gratitude than Daddy will. And if he does learn to make gratitude a habit, it will be more likely to prevail for him when there isn’t a turkey on the table.

15 comments Add your comment

Michael H. Smith

November 25th, 2010
4:35 am

A culture of entitlement, really Kyle? In America no less?

Wonderful set-up in a prelude to obtain that deeper understanding of the concept you’re blogging this time around. Do you think we as a people will arrive at separating genuine gratitude from the gratuitous cliches: Like, “this is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you”?

Soon we are going to find out if my generation has the kind of genuine selflessness that is manifested by gratitude, as we confront the solutions that will be needed to resolve the conundrum of the entitlements.

One thing for sure, entitlement reform is inevitable. Simply pushing up the age requirement on retirement in hopes that enough people will die off to leave sufficient funds for the remaining ones that live to collect benefits will be yet another gratuitous cliche from a Congress that has too long depended upon using them to pacify the dependent. As again we will hear from our members of Congress how “they had to make those tough decisions” that we and other generations will have to live with ultimately. Oh I’m sure whatever will be those “tough decisions” they make, “it is going to hurt them more that it hurts us”?

If as you say, Americans these days are good at the superficial and the dramatic, what then would you say in regards of our Congress, Kyle?

To my children and grandchildren and their unborn generations of Americans, this old man is going to tell you the truth: The America you will inherit will be much less than the America my parents generation left to mine; and “it is going to hurt you more than it ever has, or ever will, hurt me”. My generation will only bear the grief of conscience as it passes. While you and your generations will have to live out “the tough consequences” from all “the foolish decisions” others made for you, without your consent.

Children are a blessing, grandchildren are an added blessing and of my generation I must ask, why do we cruse our blessings we have been given, with a mountain of debt, a world less free or secure and a future less promising than the one we enjoyed? Is this our way of showing gratitude to them or maybe it is our way of honoring our parents and all that done for us?

Nah, Kyle, we are not superficial and the dramatic, or even gratuitous: We Americans these days, especially of the baby boomer generation, are just ungrateful and selfish.

Perhaps by next year around this time, if we right the things that are wrong or give an honest attempt at righting some of those wrongs, we will learn what it means to be truly thankful for all we have received from those who came before us and all of those who come after us, until then America…

Happy Feast of Gluttony


November 25th, 2010
9:08 am

Kyle – I think you ought to just be grateful you have a job.

Until the AJC finds a way to offshore the journalists to the cheapest country.

.I hope you son is good with his hands and will work cheaply because with the republicans in power that will be the only job available.

Look at the way this country is heading, look at the number of people with advanced degrees unable to find a job and unable to support their family, When the people that are currently working lose their jobs because of the corporalists, the only thing progressives will be able to say is WE TOLD YOU SO.

Road Scholar

November 25th, 2010
9:12 am

Happy Thanksgiving, Kyle. And to your family. As you pointed out above, it’s the little things we typically ignore that makes our lives. Don’t get me wrong, the big ones stick in our immediate memory, but when we take the time, it’s the little things that bring the longest and largest smile to our faces.

I bleed white and (old) gold

November 25th, 2010
10:23 am

I’m grateful for a non-partisan blog today.b


November 25th, 2010
10:40 am

Having good manners and saying thank you is becoming a lost art. Coarseness is becoming more and more common in America. The dumbing down of American continues full speed ahead.


November 25th, 2010
3:26 pm

i’ll be thankful when the slackers stop bringing that lame a&& green bean casserole to thanksgiving! oooo, look, you brought a green bean casserole, how wonderful, that’s what all the women say, while all the men are thinking, crap you brought a green bean casserole. if it’s so great and so wonderful why is it the dish on the table at the end of thanksgiving dinner that usually has the most left in it? too much credit for something that is too lame because folks the truth is:
nothing says i’m cheap, i’m lazy and i don’t give a damn about you people like a green bean casserole!
it’s more like “No Thanks, giving”


November 25th, 2010
3:40 pm

Very nicely done.


November 25th, 2010
4:53 pm

Happy Thanksgiving to Charlie and his lucky parents.


November 25th, 2010
8:00 pm

Congratulations on your parenthood. That is the most important thing you will ever do.

The Thanksgiving Day Diaries

November 26th, 2010
7:52 am

At best, it would have been a far, far better Thanksgiving had I not prepared the driest turkey that I had ever overdone. At worst, A stick-to-the-throat course of cous-cous and polenta stuffing cursed our Horn of Plenty. I think that I shall never see a blander pie than my apple-cranberry. Of course, I know now what came first: the egg nog and rum. My guests rummed and rummed until not a creature was stiriing, not even their spouses. And as I pondered weak and weary, the beds they’d need this midnight so dreary, a craven thought came to me from over the river and through the woods: shall I volunteer to host the feast ever again?



November 26th, 2010
11:14 am

Dude wtf is wrong with you? you need to get on your hands and knees and thank the ajc for keeping you on the payroll.

Not only do you lie, you fail on a regular basis also.


November 26th, 2010
11:16 am

Dude what is wrong with you? you need to get on your hands and knees and thank the ajc for keeping you on the payroll.

Not only do you misinform the public, you also fail on a regular basis as a journalist.


November 26th, 2010
12:25 pm

I think the (modern) oversight of the Thanksgiving holiday (w/ many jumping ahead to Christmas) is due to lack of gratitude for the Lord’s infinite blessings. We ALL need to thank the Lord (daily) for the many blessings he graciously provides.


November 26th, 2010
12:26 pm

***Correction ^^^ “He” (the Lord). :)


November 26th, 2010
4:49 pm

We may not always see eye-to-eye on politics, but you are a damned good writer.