For release: 11/23/23
By Cal Thomas
Tribune Content Agency
When Abraham Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1863, it probably seemed to many an odd time to be thankful. The nation was torn apart by the Civil War. Still, Lincoln found much for which to thank God, including America’s peace with other nations and “fruitful fields and healthful skies.” He didn’t dismiss or rationalize the price America was paying for that war, but he asked Americans to look upward.
In subsequent years it has been a challenge for Americans to be thankful for events that have diluted our spirit of gratitude. These have included Reconstruction (which harmed freed slaves in the South), World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Watergate and a growing political cynicism that has led too many of us to hate each other.
If Lincoln was able to look above temporal circumstances for the blessings he said came from the “ever-watchful providence of Almighty God,” shouldn’t we?
I am reminded of a song lyric, written long after Lincoln’s time, which reflects the attitude expressed in his proclamation: “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mr. In-between.” The song was published in 1944 during World War II and recorded by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. A second verse underscores the first: “You’ve got to spread joy to the maximum, bring gloom down to the minimum…”
OK, I know Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) tried that approach in his now-defunct presidential run, but it doesn’t mean he was wrong to point us to a better way. What’s the alternative? More of the same corrosive and depressing behavior? That attitude has a song to go with it, too. The Everly Brothers recorded it: “Problems, problems, problems all day long. Worries, worries pile up on my head. Woe is me, I should have stayed in bed.”
Which attitude promotes a better hope for today and our collective future?
It’s a choice. We can embrace the affirmative, as Lincoln did, or we can focus on problems, anger and hatred for one another and promote a spirit of ingratitude and un-thankfulness.
We live in an era of entitlement that would have shocked our Greatest Generation. We are more prosperous monetarily than any previous generation but that does not seem to assuage our anger and unhappiness.
A Gallup poll found more than one in six Americans – 18 percent – say they are depressed or receiving treatment for depression. That’s an increase of more than seven percentage points since 2015, when Gallup began polling on the topic. Granted, some of this is clinical depression, but could much of it also be caused by a focus on negative events?
Lincoln frequently invoked God and Scripture in his public remarks, perhaps none more powerful than in his 1863 proclamation when he declared: “No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
If our 16th president could say such things in the midst of the many problems and challenges he faced, shouldn’t we try to follow his example and give thanks this year and every Thanksgiving with grateful hearts?
Here’s another song lyric that could help those who are having difficulty feeling thankful: “I’ve got an attitude of gratitude, a heart that’s full and thankful; for the good, the bad, the happy or sad. Dear Lord, help me be grateful.”
Readers may email Cal Thomas at [email protected]. Look for Cal Thomas’ latest book “A Watchman in the Night: What I’ve Seen Over 50 Years Reporting on America” (HumanixBooks).
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