The Stoics saw gratitude as a kind of medicine, that saying “Thank you” for every experience was the key to mental health. “Convince yourself that everything is the gift of the gods,” was how Marcus Aurelius put it, “that things are good and always will be.”
And they didn’t just mean this on special days like Thanksgiving (which the US is celebrating today). Yes, it’s great to be thankful for the usual candidates: For our families, for our health, that we live in a time of (mostly) peace, for the food laid out in front of us.
But we should also be grateful for the less obvious things: For the setbacks, for the squabbling habits of other people, for the stress they put on us and whatever other difficulties we might be experiencing. Why? Because we are only experiencing them because we are alive. Because they are a form of fuel for our philosophy. And as frustrating as they might be, it’s what Fortune chose for us and we might as well make the most of it.
Epictetus has said that every situation has two handles: Which are you going to decide to hold onto? The anger or the appreciation? The one of resentment or of thanks?
So as you gather around your family and friends this Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other celebration you might partake in, of course, appreciate it and give thanks for all the obvious and bountiful gifts that moment presents. Just make sure that when the moment passes, as you go back to your everyday, ordinary life that you make gratitude a regular part of it. Again—not simply for what is easy and immediately pleasing, but for all of it.
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