Officially declared a holiday by Franklin D. Roosevelt on November 26, 1941, Thanksgiving has had a long history, extending over 500 years, and is still practiced in the United States today. Traditionally thought to have originated in 1621, when the Pilgrims feasted with the Wampanoag Natives, Thanksgiving has been traced to other instances of similar feasts in 1541, when Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, searching for gold, dined with his soldiers; in 1564, when Huguenots, led by René Laudonnière, ate with the Timucuan Indians; in 1565, when Pedro Avilés followed Laudonnière’s tradition; and in 1598, when Don Juan de Oñate ate with the Tigua Indians. Howsoever it came to be, Thanksgiving is about, well, giving thanks.
André Comte-Sponville’s book A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues covers all of the great morals we should all seek in life in order to live a happy life. Seeing as today is Thanksgiving, a day of gratitude, what better way to reflect with family and friends than to quote his chapter on gratitude?
“Gratitude: the pleasure of receiving, the joy of being joyful … That gratitude is a virtue, however, should not suffice to indicate that it cannot be taken for granted, that it is something we can be lacking in, and that consequently, in spirit of or perhaps because of the pleasure, there is merit in experiencing it.”
“Gratitude takes nothing from us: it is a gift given in return with no loss and almost no object or objective. Gratitude has nothing to give, except this pleasure of having received.”
“What happier and more humble virtue, what easier and more necessary grace than that of giving thanks … To thank it to give; to be gracious means to share. This pleasure that I owe to you is not for me alone. This joy, this happiness, they belong to both of us.”
He quotes Kant: “‘Thankfulness or gratitude is a desire or eagerness of love, by which we strive to benefit one who has benefited us from a like affect of love.'”
“Gratitude is humble because it knows it is graced, graced by existence, or by life, or by all things, and gives in return, not knowing to whom or how, simply because it is good to offer thanks–to give grace–in return, to rejoice in one’s own joy and love, whose causes are always beyond our comprehension but which contain us, make us live, and carry us along.”
“Gratitude, then, is the secret to friendship, not because we feel indebted to our friends, since we owe them nothing, but because we share with them an overabundance of common, reciprocal joy … This kind of gratitude is certainly a virtue, for it is the happiness of loving, the only happiness there is.”
For further reading: A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues by André Comte-Sponville (2001)
Lies You Learned at School by Michael Powell (2010)