Where has the spirit of America gone? From its beginnings, our country was steeped in independence . . . freedom to rely on one’s own self to pursue happiness. This idea was built on the foundation of a solid work ethic, where everyone started from the same place, with the same chance to become something great, proportional to their amount of internal discipline, dedication, and focus on their work.
In the America of the past, there was a culture where those who worked hard were rewarded with wealth, rather than a culture where the poor had to work hard to survive while the rich had no need to work at all. America was the “land of opportunity.” Yet over time, greed set in, and the rags-to-riches idea became a get-rich-quick expectation. Wealth was no longer a privilege, but a right. And everyone wanted a slice of the pie (To get a clear visual of this, just think of the gold rush).
Today we see much of the early American spirit has been masked by this sense of “entitlement.” I get food from a local food bank because I can’t afford it on my own, but I deserve a smartphone because everyone else has one. I don’t have the money for a house that size, but my family deserves a big home. I never put a lot of effort in my studies, but I paid a lot of money to go to college, and I deserve a good job. This “entitlement” causes people to reach beyond their means to be “equal” with others, without putting in the work. It’s painful to watch, particularly when it happens to someone you know. But how can we turn this around? If entitlement is the vice, we need counterbalance with the corresponding virtue: gratitude. What better week than Thanksgiving to start practicing? Just because the holiday is over doesn't mean we should lose our focus on being grateful.
By spending a little time each day to count our blessings, and stopping to recognize the gifts in our lives, we slowly combat materialism and entitlement. “I deserve X” becomes “I am blessed because I have Y.” Instead of focusing on the things we don’t have that we think we need, we focus on what we do have and what we can do with that. How much more empowering to begin from where you are and move forward than to look from the forward position to where you are now? By looking at ourselves from where we want to be, rather than looking ahead from where we are, we are gazing backwards! Bringing back the feelings of gratitude brings us back to our roots. It is there we will find the American spirit.
Happy Thanksgiving leftovers!