Among the beautiful messages in the 1937 film Captains Courageous is one relating to thankfulness. When spoiled rich kid Harvey says to Portuguese fisherman Manuel about Manuel’s father, "He didn’t do much for you; I mean, he didn’t leave you anything,” it evoked quite a reaction. Manuel passionately replied in his broken English:
He leave me this hurdy-gurdy [a musical instrument] that his grandfather leave him. He teach me how to fish, how to sail a boat. He gave me arms and hands and feet, feeling good outside ... and he teach me how to feel good inside. My father do all this; he have 17 other kids, beside. What else a father do, huh?
This dialogue presents two very different perspectives. One always wants more; the other knows we have already gotten more. And don’t we see both — one perhaps all too frequently — represented in our society today?
One is apparent in the violent protests around the world, in which people cause mayhem because, by their lights, they haven’t gotten what’s coming. The other is represented by people who, by a higher light, know we haven’t gotten what’s coming — and that this actually is something for which to be very, very thankful.
As to the first perspective, when we don’t get what we consider a birthright, we’re usually upset, aren’t we? “I want what’s mine!” we may think. And as we’ve seen, this can manifest itself not just with the fruits of our own hand (e.g., salary), but with handouts.
In contrast to the anger and unhappiness of this protest mentality is the “present” mentality, which was colorfully expressed by G.K. Chesterton when he said, “Goods look a lot better when wrapped as gifts.” We appreciate presents because they’re a bonus; they’re things we don’t deserve. They tend to make us, in a word, happy.
What follows from this, however, is that if we continuously received gifts, we could be consistently happy. But how can one cultivate this happiness-inducing present mentality?
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