This editorial was originally published in the Watertown Daily Times on Nov. 21, 2018:
In his renowned book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn presents the grim reality of serving time in a Soviet gulag.
Among the first works of literature to expose Joseph Stalin’s brutality, the book was noteworthy for its depiction of the horrors visited upon the Russian people. Daily existence for people sent to labor camps was often harrowing.
But at the end of one particular day, prisoner Ivan Denisovich Shukhov experiences a sense of contentment. He focuses on the pleasant moments that transpired rather than the bad.
“Shukhov felt pleased with life as he went to sleep. A lot of good things had happened that day,” Solzhenitsyn wrote at the end of his book. “He hadn’t been thrown in the hole. The gang hadn’t been dragged off to Sotsgorodok. He’d swiped the extra gruel at dinnertime. The foreman had got a good rate for the job. He’d enjoyed working on the wall. He hadn’t been caught in the blade at the search point. He’d earned a bit from Tsezar that evening. He’d bought his tobacco. And he hadn’t taken sick, had got over it.
“The end of an unclouded day. Almost a happy one.”
Despite the abhorrent conditions under which he lived, Shukhov counted his blessings. He felt gratitude for life’s pleasantries, even in the midst of the evil around him.
Solzhenitsyn’s decision to conclude his story this way offers a lesson. We can find the bright spots in life through all the sorrows if we chose to recognize them.
“Every language in the world has a way of saying ‘thank you.’ This is because gratitude is an inherent quality that resides within each human being and is triggered and expressed spontaneously in a variety of different contexts. Gratitude crosses all boundaries — creed, age, vocation, gender and nation — and is emphasized by all the great religious traditions,” according to Angeles Arrien’s book “Living in Gratitude: A Journey that will Change Your Life.”
“Gratitude is essentially the recognition of the unearned increments of value in one’s experience — the acknowledgment of the positive things that come our way that we did not actively work toward or ask for,” she wrote in her book. “The International Encyclopedia of Ethics defines gratitude as ‘the heart’s internal indicator on which the tally of gifts outweighs exchanges,’ a definition that echoes the notion of unearned increments. The connection to the concept of gifts is a natural one. The Latin root of the word gratitude is grata or gratia — a given gift — and from this same root we get our word grace, which means a gift freely given that is unearned.”
Living in gratitude allows us to use these unearned gifts to enrich ourselves and those close to us. The good things carry us through moments where we’re seized by grief or anger, fear or frustration.
This requires a conscious decision to acknowledge the blessings we receive and express our appreciation to the source of these good things. We choose to live in joy rather than despair.
While we all should strive to live in gratitude every day, we set apart one in particular to express our collective appreciation for what we have. This tradition of Thanksgiving dates back centuries, and its value to us as a society has only increased over time.
Make time on Thursday to get together with loved ones to bask in what we all cherish most. Be grateful for the many wonderful aspects of life, and spread the joy to others. Help make their lives more meaningful as well.
We wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving.