Father William Byron, S.J.

Father William Byron, S.J.

This is the thanks-saying, thanks-doing, thanksgiving season. It begins in late November and runs through Christmas. In the United States, Thanksgiving Day is a secular feast, although many religious congregations mark it with special services and prayers.

We would be a better, stronger, happier nation if we lived gratefully with one another every day of the year, not just on Thanksgiving Day. Organized religion can help to make that happen.

Gratitude is at the center of all religious observance and thus always part of any faith-focused life. Believers consider themselves to be “much obliged” to give thanks to God and to be grateful to their neighbor as well. Love of neighbor is an expression of love for and gratitude to God.

Thoughtful persons are typically grateful for the gift of faith, family, friends and forgiveness. They also are grateful for good health and good fortune, for safety and security, and for the promise that is theirs, in faith, of life everlasting. Not to be grateful in this way is to declare oneself to be an ingrate and, not surprisingly, the ingrate is caught in the trap of unhappiness.

It is not possible to be simultaneously grateful and unhappy. So any unhappy person should be encouraged to reflect on the reasons — there are many — that they have to be grateful.

An unhappy young person is a person unaware of his or her gifts. Any person can be a person to whom happiness will surely come, if he or she simply chooses to open the door. Similarly, persons who fail to grow old gratefully will be burdened with loneliness and discontent until they notice that old age is a gift for which they can be nothing but grateful.

So, Thanksgiving season is a good time to take inventory of all of one’s gifts and blessings. Make a list and keep it within reach for easy referral. Reflection on that list will surely prompt expressions of gratitude.

And to the extent that those expressions take the form of a word of thanks or a helping hand to others, happiness will spread and the world will indeed become a better place.

No one likes an ingrate. The best way to avoid not being liked is to be grateful. The larger the supply of gratitude in any family, workplace, community or nation, the larger the reach and range of happiness there. Thanksgiving Day provides an annual second start on the road to happiness.


Jesuit Father Byron is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Email: wbyron@sju.edu.