Thanksgiving 2010: In These Hard Times, Are Americans Thankful?

Article excerpt

Thanksgiving 2010 finds Americans politically divided and struggling financially. But poll data suggest that Americans are fiercely resilient, a quality that is strengthened by feeling gratitude.

A wavering economy, a polarized electorate, a future in fog. On the eve of Thanksgiving 2010, what's there to be thankful for in America? As in the 1970s, the so-called "misery index" has risen in recent years as the deficit ballooned, incomes flattened, and a mortgage crisis put the dream of homeownership in jeopardy for millions. Yet nearly three years into a national economic crisis, there's evidence in polling data that gratitude - the positive emotion that flows from the realization you've benefited from another's deeds - is being embraced by Americans as a way to readjust their expectations and reevaluate their lives.

What indications are there that Americans are thankful?

The latest Gallup "life evaluation" poll, which measures how Americans view their lives in the present and in the near future, showed the highest scores in three years in May and a slow but steady climb since November 2008 - a sign, Gallup says, of "ferocious resilience."

And an important factor bolstering resilience, say researchers Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis, and Michael McCullough at the University of Miami, is experiencing and showing gratitude. The social scientists say gratitude can also thwart deeper feelings of resentment that stem from personal economic woes or anger at, for example, the political status quo in Washington.

Tough times "show how strong you are, how resilient you are, how much you have grown and learned and developed; and you start to value other things in your life," says M.J. Ryan, an author who writes about self-empowerment.

In that light, she says, the improving "life evaluation" readings indicate, at least in part, that "Americans are focusing on what they're grateful for."

What indicators show Americans are too preoccupied to be grateful?

Charitable giving, one barometer of the collective sense of well- being in the country, is way down in the US, with some 36 percent of Americans saying they'll give less to charity this year.

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However, that is in part due to personal income insecurity, studies show, and is contradicted by the fact that some 88 percent of those who plan to give fewer gifts still plan to donate more of their time and skills.

Many people living in an acquisitive society such as the US exhibit narcissistic traits and an unjustified sense of entitlement, writes Joe Ferullo in the National Catholic Reporter, adding that for those people "economic hard times feel like unjust punishment from an uncaring parent."

Moreover, a recent ABC News/Yahoo! poll showed 85 percent of Americans saying they're angry about the state of the economy.

According to a 2003 paper in the journal Social Behavior and Personality, anger, narcissism, and a sense of entitlement all run directly counter to experiencing and expressing gratitude.

What can we glean from the recent midterm elections? …