This year the thanksgiving holiday (and feelings that go with it) have been extended more than usual as I have focused on the blessing of being married for 25 years to an angel.
But I think it is difficult to stay in a thanksgiving mindset these days, not because times are hard, but because we still have so much (although perhaps less than we had a few years ago). As blogged elsewhere, the abundant life is more a state of mind than a state of having lots of material stuff. Now comes more rigorous thought from economists on why that is the case. Do you remember those boring lectures in Econ 101 about the theory of utility? Basically, the theory says with each additional (or marginal) thing we get, its marginal utility decreases. And with decreasing utility, so goes our thankfulness for it.
So Thoreau was right. The formula for optimizing thankfulness and therefore, Joy, is to minimize excess stuff and live in a state of mild deprivation.
Hmmm, deprivation. that sounds kind of bad doesn’t it? I have found that deprivation, in itself, doesn’t necessarily produce gratitude or joy any more than our greenhouse always produces the best vegetables. There are plenty of miserable poor people to attest to that and it takes more than just solar heat in the daytime to grow good produce. But, like the greenhouse, maintaining the right environment is important where, with some additional care and tending, the fruits of thankfulness and joy can be most rewarding.
I know this advice is falling on a lot of deaf ears. “Mild deprivation” doesn’t sound very appealing even with some quasi-scientific/Economic justification. OK, so try a dare based on the more traditional Biblical justification found in Proverbs 30:7-9.
Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.
Economic theory confirmed in Scripture or the other way around? All I know is that this week, as I have focused my attention on being thankful for the simple, non-material things of value in my life, I have felt a deeper, lasting sense of peace. That feels pretty valuable right now.