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Jeb Bladine: Thankfulness has many perspectives

Feeling thankful can be a challenge, and this is a good time of year to confront and overcome nagging discontents. That done, we can watch life’s miracles float by while finding ways to help others.

One starting point is to take an inventory of how we process our world. Some people focus on problems and their causes; others ponder challenges and possible solutions. It’s the classic comparison of the glass half-empty versus glass half-full … the contrast between Sunny Sam (Suzie) and Gloomy Gus (Gertie).

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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At the far extreme from thankfulness, there is self-pity. Said English writer and actor Stephen Fry:

“Self-pity is the worst possible emotion anyone can have. And the most destructive. It is, to slightly paraphrase what Wilde said about hatred — and I think actually hatred’s a subset of self-pity and not the other way around — ‘It destroys everything around it, except itself’.”

Most people experience self-pity at one time or another, then get over it. The real test is to recognize the fallout when even faint tinges of that emotion infiltrate our relationships.

One unfortunate reality is that thankfulness is boosted by a comparison to the plights of others.

Certainly, any perception about life in second- and third-world countries makes us thankful to be in this place at this time. From that perch, however, a glance around reveals people whose lives make ours seem positively Pollyannaish.

I got a note this week from an old friend: Her spouse, recovering from prostate cancer, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; her daughter has thyroid cancer, and a spouse whose mental illness and mismanagement of money led to bankruptcy and divorce proceedings; the fixer-upper house they bought for their daughter and grandchildren became a money-pit of repairs.

Reading that note, I momentarily was grateful that my life struggles pale in comparison. But thankfulness should not be spawned by pity, as I was reminded by her next words:

“Is this sounding like a soap opera?”

Her list of tribulations was simply informative, not a search of sympathy. She intertwined memories of the great people we worked with 40-plus years ago, and a story about meeting a lively group of McMinnville ladies from Hillside Communities — “I really admired their get-up-and-go.”

Thankful? Yes, her note had an underlying sense of optimism that I remember about her from decades ago. It was a nice lesson about the importance of thankfulness going into another holiday season.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com of 503-687-1223.

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