Trent England | November 21, 2018
Politics vs. thankfulness
You may think of Thanksgiving as an unhealthy holiday, and if you go back for thirds, you may be right. But a growing body of research shows that thankfulness—the reason for this season—is good for us. Gratitude is good for our mental health and empathy, and also benefits our physical health, helps us sleep better, and may contribute to resilience.
Unfortunately, modern life and politics often work to reduce gratitude and thus to steal away these benefits.
Consider, for example, the idea that each generation should live better than their parents. For most of human history, there was no reason to have such an expectation. There were few technologies that mattered, they were simple, and they changed slowly. Far more important were events outside human control, or at least an individual’s own control: droughts, epidemics, the warlike ways of neighboring tribes. There was little reason to expect any of these things to get better over time.
Parents might have still hoped for, and worked for, better lives for their children. But an expectation, a sense of entitlement for that to happen, would have made little sense. When things got better, there was reason to be thankful. If things stayed the same, or got worse, there was no reason to feel cheated.
The difference is simple. If I expect something to happen, why be thankful when it does? If someone owes me money and pays me back, my saying “thank you” will be an act of politeness more than gratitude. And if they don’t pay me back, I have a grievance, a reason to be angry. Entitlement does not produce thanksgiving, but rather it’s opposite: resentment.
Imagine if Franklin Roosevelt had been with the Pilgrims at Plymouth. He might have told them they deserved “freedom from fear” and “freedom from want.” Or if Bernie Sanders was there to point out everyone who earned less than the 17th century equivalent of $15 an hour. If the Pilgrims had come to believe such things, to believe that they were entitled to success, there would have been no first Thanksgiving. In the unlikely event they survived at all, they would have had no reason to be thankful.
Some suggest that democratic government itself leads to an attitude of entitlement and thus toward a politics of resentment. It’s an easy path to political power, to convince people that only some conspiracy prevents them from getting what they already deserve. Like all great lies, there is usually a grain of truth in it. After all, life, as mother says, isn’t fair. The question for us is whether we will inculcate an attitude of grievance or of gratitude.
Hopefully, we’ll do the latter. After all, it’s good for us.
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.