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posted: 11/28/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: The unlikely power of giving thanks

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

If we wanted to be cynics, we have no shortage of grounds these days. An economy struggling to support the citizens who compose and contribute to it. Dysfunction and disharmony the order of the day in both the state and national capitols. High unemployment. Low expectations. A pension crisis. A gun crisis. A confidence crisis.

Cynicism hums its siren song from behind every rock.

Thank heavens, then, for a day like today.

The origins of Thanksgiving in America, it is worth noting, are steeped in hardship. Death and disease welcomed the Pilgrims prior to that famous first feast in 1621. Abraham Lincoln established the federal holiday we celebrate today in the midst of a devastating and uncertain civil war.

Such may not be circumstances most conducive toward enumerating blessings, but they are circumstances when it is especially important to do the counting. Indeed, what's key today may not be that we can produce a list of things for which we are grateful but that we count them at all. Researchers have found that cultivating a spirit of gratitude can help people at work and at home. It leads to better overall well-being in both mind and body, including benefits as broad as reducing general stress and depression and as specific as improving sleep.

But thankfulness is not a reflex. It is a conscious activity, even when, perhaps especially when, it can appear to be a naive one.

If you are among the nearly one in 10 Illinoisans looking for work, thankfulness may not lie at the top of the emotions you are feeling today. If you or someone you care about is suffering from a debilitating disease, it may be hard, it may even seem insulting, to say words of gratitude.

If you have a loved one bearing arms in a foreign and dangerous country, the thanks you offer -- for a soldier's continued safety -- may be very different from those that others around you feel -- for the willingness of your loved one to sacrifice for their safety and freedom.

Yet, that's what makes the act of expressing thanks so valuable. It is the recognition that even when we are awash in troubles, the occasions for gratitude in our lives and communities are bountiful.

So, yes, we regret that the Illinois legislature has taken so long to address the pension crisis devastating its budget. But we're glad for every opportunity to hope -- including the possibility of a viable solution as early as next week.

We are saddened and troubled by Chicago's reputation as the murder capital of the nation. But we can't overlook the fact that, as bad as it is, the city's murder rate is nearly half what it was 20 years ago. And overall crime is down, too.

And, most important, in the midst of a daunting economic slump, we still have strong communities, great schools, fast friendships and warm family embraces in which to luxuriate and delight.

Cynicism may tempt us however it likes throughout the year. Today we respond and render it impotent through the unlikely power of remembering our good fortune. Happy Thanksgiving.

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