Thanksgiving a time for contemplation and gratitude

What do you do when there is nothing to do? What do you do when there are no more problems to solve, books to read or papers to write? Aristotle says that we work so that we may have leisure. Many people, no matter how much they love their classes or their job, are “working for the weekend.”

Certainly, our free time and vacations are valuable commodities that we should greatly treasure. With this in mind, and looking ahead to Thanksgiving Break, I think it is timely to ponder how to best use our time away from work.

The most important thing we can do is take some time for personal reflection. Work, whether manual or intellectual, is a noble and beautiful thing. By doing our work well, we grow in maturity, exercise our creativity and help in the building up of society. Work also has its problems; sometimes it is to easy to get caught up in all the activity and forget about the values we hold most dear.

We should take some time in silence, looking deeply into our consciences, and ask ourselves: am I living the way I am supposed to live? Am I living as I really want to live? A good place to start is by asking ourselves whether we are truly happy.

Am I happy? Such a simple question, but how profound! How many people are really happy? To answer this question, we have to look beyond the surface of things. I have known many people who have seemed happy, but were in fact miserable.

How many people like getting drunk and hooking up? This brings pleasure which cannot satisfy because as time goes by it ceases to fulfill. To his dismay, any hedonist will soon discover a law of diminishing returns: the more he experiences a certain pleasure, the less pleasurable it becomes. He goes out in search of more and more pleasurable experiences until everything leaves him bored. Someone in such a situation cannot be happy. If that is the case, why go on living in such a way?

How many people enter unfulfilling romantic relationships? Their partner may be mean, insensitive and uncaring, but they do not break out of the demeaning situation. There are also other, less serious cases, in which a person knows that he is definitely not compatible with someone else, and could not see himself with her in the long term, yet continues to date her. Anyone in these situations cannot really be happy, so why should he or she stay in them?

How many people are addicted to work? To others, there is nothing obviously wrong, but for whatever reason in their obsession for work they fail to give their families and friends the attention they deserve. They even damage their health by not taking the recreation that they need. Such workaholics, as they are often called, cannot be happy, so why not take steps do something about it?

It is not for nothing that Mother Teresa called America the poorest nation on Earth. I could not agree more. I have encountered so many people who seemed reasonably content, but who on the inside were torn by tremendous despair.

All of us, to some extent or another, engage in self-destructive behavior that we halfway acknowledge but never work up the courage to confront. Our moments of leisure are ideal times in which to recognize the magnitude of our problems and make efforts to remedy them, or to decide to seek help if we cannot help ourselves.

I am sure someone is ready to accuse me of being something of a crapehanger. The holidays, after all, should be about rejoicing. But how can a man rejoice if he ignores the fact that his life is falling apart? Any such festivity must be rather superficial, like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burns.

But once we have exorcised our inner demons, we can enjoy the good things Thanksgiving offers. For one, we should try to grow closer to our families. The holidays remind us of the centrality of family life. The most beautiful holiday movies are usually about loving families.

Truly, the only real joy in life comes not from selfishly following our own interests, but through loving those closest to us.

If we have neglected our families, it is time to spend much more time with them. Even if our family situation is not perfect, we can work on improving it. No matter what anyone else does, we can still love him or her, even if sometimes he or she seems unlovable. By doing so we will help foster love and joy within our families, and so long as we have that we will have found happiness and will not have to look elsewhere for it.

As a final note, I do not think a discussion of Thanksgiving would be complete without mentioning the One to whom we are giving thanks. Now do not get the wrong idea. I am not trying to impose my religion on anyone. I am mainly speaking to religious people.

For those of us who believe in God, Thanksgiving is a time to renew our relationship with Him. Leisure time is about refocusing on what is most important, and what could be more important than that?

I, for one, realize a need for change. In the past, I have not spent enough time with my family and not nearly enough time in prayer. With the advent of the holidays I will recommit myself to living a life in harmony with my deepest values, and I welcome everyone to join me.