That Whole Thankful Thing
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It's almost Thanksgiving, and like everyone, the Urban Man is trying to conjure an overall sense of gratitude. Here in L.A., it's no cakewalk. After all, we are most of us not actually rich and famous. Or maybe we're rich but not famous. Or we're famous but experience no love. Or we have money, fame, and love, but no Oscar. Or we have money, fame, love, an Oscar, and a deep spiritual life, but our dog is always at the vet.
In any case, most of us can only pull off serious gratitude for two to three minutes, every now and then. With years of religious or Zen training, we can hit five or ten minutes every six to eight weeks. The rest of the time, Angelenos figure gratitude is at odds with the whole "City of Dreams" concept. Gratitude could accidentally lead to satisfaction, and here in the City of Dreams, you should never be satisifed with what you have, and certainly not with what anyone else has done for you, lately or otherwise...or else the whole dream thing could grind to a halt.
Still, I think, maybe it would be okay if we only became grateful for the little things in life — indoor plumbing, sunshine — I mean, probably no harm in that. And hey, maybe we just need a little education on how it's done.
So this afternoon, on behalf of the city, the Urban Man heads for the mall, locates a mega-bookstore and strolls the self-help section, pulling titles like Count Your Blessings and Attitudes of Gratitude. I scan these books secretly, so no one will think I'm getting soft.
Right off, I'm disappointed to find they mostly contain stories about people who have recovered from terrible accidents or dread diseases — after which they do become thankful for every little thing — you know, for every wiggle of their toes, every leaf on every green tree, every mote in every ray of sunshine.
One author claims that a major spinal injury is a better predictor of future happiness than winning the lottery — and I'm sure that's probably true. Still, as a strategy for bliss, staging a catastrophic disaster and recovery does seem a tad impractical, and of course, these books all claim that gratitude is available to everyone, no matter how fortunate, through a tiny change in perception, like flipping a switch behind your eyes.
"Hey," thinks the Urban Man. "I have a spare half hour. I'll try to appreciate the sun shining on Pico Boulevard."
At first when I step outside, I'm distressed to find that instead of say, John Denver's shoulders, the dusky sunlight makes me at first consider melanoma and smog inversions. But I turn my attention to the glorious proliferation of many mattress stores, and the asphalt laid by previous generations (reminding myself that it does stretch from here up into the mountains.)
I puff out my cheeks, I squint my eyes, and I press my temples trying to hit the gratitude switch those books discussed. The street may be jammed, but I focus on the miracle of personal transportation. I notice large plate glass windows, and I think, "Wow, imagine how ancient humans would have liked to have plate glass?"
Sure enough, something clicks, and I dare even to walk back into the mall, where I repress my distaste for large temperature-controlled environments, and notice the way many people try to look beautiful for my benefit. I think, "Surely a person should always appreciate tight jeans worn upon whatever sex they prefer to see tight jeans worn upon." A holiday mood overtakes me, and now I'm appreciating clocks and socks, shelves of books and children's happy looks, smiles of clerks and frozen yogurt with all the works. Sure, just before it all gets out of hand, the local fear of too much joy and gratitude pulls me up short. But when I check my watch I'm pleased to see that I have been able to sustain a genuine gratefulness for over four minutes and 35 seconds.
"Hey," I think, "Not bad for an Urban Man."
Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
Banner image: Vice-President Joe Biden (L) greets a recovering wounded US serviceman with his wife Dr. Jill Biden (C) as they have Thanksgiving dinner at the Vice-President's residence with Fisher House service members and family November 23, 2009, at the US Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
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