“All the days of the afflicted are bad, but he whose heart is cheerful has an ongoing feast.” Proverbs 15:15
“A glad heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” Proverbs 17:22
“A glad heart brightens the face, but by sorrow in the heart the spirit is broken.” Proverbs 15:13
Approaching Thanksgiving, I looked in Proverbs for wisdom that relates to the value of being grateful. What I found were insightful observations about the wonders of “a glad heart.” I believe gratitude leads directly to a gladdened heart. Let’s see how, and what they – together – mean for us.
Here’s a suggestion: devote some of your Thanksgiving discussion around the table with family and friends to exploring these questions: 1) for what are we grateful, 2) how does gratitude gladden our hearts, and 3) what difference would a gladdened heart make in our lives?
First, look at the Hebrew words for gratitude – hikarat hatov. This literally means, “recognizing the good.” Being grateful begins with recognizing all the good that has come our way.
What good would you say has come your way? Here’s what I would say as a start: my life, my parents who gave me life and taught me of life, a world of beauty and wonder, opportunities to serve others and God, family and friends, a mind to contemplate my many blessings, the capacity to learn and grow, and knowing that I have a way of return when I stray. It goes on and on for me, as I know it would for you.
The mere act of reciting what makes me grateful indeed gladdens my heart. Doesn’t doing so gladden yours? I suspect so, and I suspect it would for all those who celebrate Thanksgiving with you.
This feeling in the heart is one, the Proverbs teach, that we should seek to maintain on a perpetual basis. It is a medicine that does wonders for the spirit and the body. It brightens our face and our outlook, thus improving the quality of our lives. And it serves as the foundation for a continuing feast each day of our lives, when the heart is made right by the feeling of gratitude.
The wisdom here, thus, provides for both an immediate and an enduring celebration. We experience Thanksgiving by reflecting on the gratitude we feel and enjoying it with the day’s feast. But, even better, we are rewarded with ongoing feast for sustaining gratitude.
Let’s strive to gladden our hearts through the discipline of a constant exercise of gratitude for all that blesses our lives. If we do that, we’ll feel even more thankful for the joy a gladdened heart brings to our lives. Beautifully, then, as the gratitude grows, so will the joy!
Finally, whenever gloom or despair disturbs this pattern of living, try to stay the course by hearkening to the guidance of the great Hasidic teacher, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: “Gratitude rejoices with her sister joy and is always ready to light a candle and have a party. Gratitude, though, doesn’t much like the old cronies of boredom, despair and taking life for granted.”