The grace of gratefulness

MST column, published 30 Nov 2013

It was Thanksgiving this week in the US and even though we here in the Philippines do not officially mark the occasion, it is always good to be thankful for the many things we have, not just on the last week of every November but every day. 

Gratefulness has been known to have emotional and physical benefits. A essay by Sondra Whitt at quotes Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California Davis, as saying that practicing daily gratitude “develops higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy and we’re also more likely to help someone with a personal problem or to offer emotional support to others.”

In our present national situation, however, do we have enough things to be grateful for? Will being grateful improve our emotional state of the nation even -- especially -- during these trying times? 

Take the devastation brought by super typhoon Yolanda. So many lives have been lost -- we cannot even agree on how many thousands. Billions of pesos worth of structures were destroyed and livelihoods were demolished. The confusion and chaos that followed in the aftermath of the storm lent ignominy to the effects of the disaster. 

We find ourselves so vulnerable to and helpless before the forces of nature. 

Take, too, the current state of Philippine politics. The most recent spectacle at the Senate featuring two supposedly brilliant lawmakers made us shake our heads in frustration and disgust. Billions of pesos that could have made our nation more competitive and our people more empowered ended up in the pockets of a few. Politicians keep acting as magnanimous donors to keep etheir constituents beholden to them and make them overlook their transgressions. Public funds are used for substandard projects at best, and nonexistent ones at worst. 

There is apparent inaction among our leaders and continuing injustice. Transparency remains an illusion as the freedom of information bill remains ignored. Crime is committed with impunity making it seem that life is worthless. And while the economy is said to be improving, there is a gaping disparity between the rich and the poor. 

These are among the things that make it so difficult to be grateful. 

But we persevere despite that difficulty...until we begin to see the courage of family members to save their loved ones, the bigness of strangers to help others whom they have never met, the empathy of some who did not think twice about sharing their resources, or their time, or both. 

How can one not be grateful that there are many who wake up every morning after that harrowing tragedy and find a reason to live despite everything that’s been lost? 

We are also thankful for that Supreme Court decision declaring congressional pork barrel unconstitutional. Imagine, we spent many years just accepting it as a given!

We are thankful that social media has enabled many Filipinos to participate in discussions on national and social issues, and to become vigilant. Young people, specifically, spend time online not just to upload so-called selfies but to know more about how our nation is being run. They lend their voices to the conversation. 

Seeing the gems should also hold true in our personal lives. We are thankful for our families who give us direction and purpose and support us through good and bad times—even if we may get on each other’s nerves once in a while. 

We remember our friends especially those of long standing, and treasure their company and their counsel today as we have for many years.

We are thankful for the opportunities and the successes big and small, as well as for the failures and unanswered prayers; these have taught us to be patient and persevering. 

We are grateful for the last time we laughed so heartily and look forward to doing so again, and more often. 

We should abandon the simplistic view that being grateful means closing your eyes to whatever is wrong or inadequate. On the contrary, it should make us aware that there remains imperfection—the good thing is that we are capable of addressing them. 

At the end of the day, gratefulness, for the kind of persons it makes us, is a grace. 

Let’s be more deliberate in being thankful. Let us see it grow into a habit and into a disposition—one that determines the quality of how we live.