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Nov 24, 2013 By Steven R. Peck

It needn't be complicated

Somewhere along the line, a dose of something like guilt came to be attached to the November holiday arriving Thursday. Maybe it has been there all along, owing to Thanksgiving's origins in the Puritan traditions of the earliest America and even earlier England.

However it happened, Thanksgiving for some people seems to be "celebrated" almost in a scolding fashion, in the "there are starving children in Africa, so eat your spinach" mold.

To each his own, of course, but this year you might try putting that frame of mind aside if you can. Don't think of Thanksgiving as a corrective day against tide of ingratitude for the obvious. Those kinds of feelings can introduce bitterness, even resentment, to the day.

Being thankful needn't be so complicated. At its essence, this Thursday's holiday can be an occasion for all of us to reflect on one of two notions -- things are either better than they used to be, or not so bad as they might be.

Within this coupling of related ideas, there is room for all of us. There is room for the rich and the poor. There is room for the young and the old, the tall and the short, the healthy and less-healthy, for the happy and even for the despairing.

If you don't have everything you want, then be thankful that you can recognize the difference between wishing for it and striving to reach it. If your blessings are abundant, then be thankful for a course of events that made it so, and for your ability to help another person.

Many of us might remember a time when, as children, a stern adult pointed a finger this time of year and instructed us to list something we were thankful for. Under pressure to give the "right answer," we might have turned red with embarrassment, stuttered with anxiety, or felt our minds freeze because of the sudden demand to express gratitude. If we failed to respond in a way that pleased our inquisitor, we might have been dismissed as ungrateful or too ignorant to recognize how good we had it compared to another.

It is these comparisons, and these scowling demands, that can rob Thanksgiving of the simple reassurance and comfort as it is intended to have.

Thanksgiving need not be a proctored examination in which the list of all that we have must be inventoried to prove a point to someone else. Rather, it can be, and, perhaps, ought to be, a simpler, lower-obligation experience.

If you are able to access the existential elements of your being in a way that can be expressed through a complex and profound recognition and expression of thankfulness, then congratulations. Good for you. Make the most of it. But don't lord it over everyone else.

And if you can't wrap up Thanksgiving in a well-ordered speech about the philosophy of life or in the neat verse of a ministerial-style prayer at the dinner table, don't sweat it. Don't punish yourself for not being as eloquently thankful as the next person.

What are we thankful for? If you still have that feeling from time to time, consider this tip: think small. Consider what is right in front of your face, or what occupies your mind during a feeling of contentment. Get back to basics. Don't make it harder than it needs to be. You don't have to have a flowchart in your head to organize your thankfulness.

Thankful? On Thursday, start with a piece of pie, and go from there.

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