On Oct. 25, 1860, Minnesota’s first governor, Alexander Ramsey, signed a proclamation making the last Thursday in November a day of praise and thanksgiving.
Governor Ramsey wrote in part, “The falling leaves of autumn find our garners full of wheat. Warehouses are crowded and steamers groan with the varied products of the harvest. …
“Bright skies and pure air greeted the reaper from day to day, and the farmer, now that his labor is over, finds his family free from the diseases so common in lower latitudes, and ready to enjoy the abundance with which they have been blessed.
“Hope is seen in every face, and the day seems not far off when there shall be a complete recovery from embarrassments caused by the late financial revulsion.”
Being thankful for one’s many blessings is no guarantee of future health or wealth. Exactly two weeks after Ramsey signed his proclamation, Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Before Lincoln had even taken office, seven states had seceded from the union, and the Civil War was all but under way.
And yet today, even as Minnesotans have enjoyed another harvest beyond the wildest dreams of their forefathers, many have taken the attitude that there is no one to thank but ourselves for our intelligence and diligence in squeezing every molecule of wealth from the land. Many others have taken the attitude that there is no time to waste in the unending grab to get more. Still others think a day of thanks is instead just a day for football and overeating.
We have forgotten how quickly it can all disappear, how lucky we are to live in a time of such abundance. Be reminded that every time mankind has thought of itself as master of its own fate, it has been humbled.
The underlying optimism expressed in Gov. Ramsey’s proclamation of gratitude stands in stark contrast to today’s growing sentiment to ignore the holiday’s original purpose.
We let go of that at our own peril because gratitude is so closely tied to our own happiness. As the country western singer Willie Nelson once noted, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”
Take some time this week to think of all the good things that have come your way this year. It will do more for your personal happiness than any other endeavor.