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 The Best Way Out



Thursday, December 4, 2008


The Best Way Out

by Alexander Green

Dear Reader,


Last Thursday, I suffered a home invasion. Twenty-two of my relatives showed up for Thanksgiving. (Some of them invited.)


We gathered to give thanks for our health, our friends, our family... and a 26-pound bird stuffed with cornbread dressing and surrounded by cranberry sauce, squash soufflé, parmesan-garlic green beans with almonds, and sweet potato casserole.


With all our blessings, however, is one day of thanks ever enough?


Absolutely not. In his book "Discovering the Laws of Life," the famed money manager and philanthropist John Templeton recommended a different approach. He called it thanksliving.


Thanksliving means practicing an attitude of perpetual gratitude.


That's not hard when times are good. But for many, it's tough out there right now. The economy is weak. The job market is soft. Credit is tight.


Combine these with the real estate slump and the recent swoon in stock and bond markets and an attitude of continual thankfulness becomes a tall order.


Yet Templeton offers a radical solution. Don't just give thanks for your blessings. Be grateful for your problems, too.


This seems wildly counterintuitive at first blush. But facing up to our challenges makes us stronger, smarter, tougher, and more valuable as parents, mates, employees... and human beings.


Calm seas never produced a skilled sailor. Solving problems is what we're made for. It's what makes life worth living.


"Adversity, when overcome, strengthens us," says Templeton. "So we are giving thanks not for the problem itself but for the strength and knowledge that will come from it. Giving thanks for this growth ahead of time will help you to grow through - not just go through - your challenges."


Circumstances alone never decide our fate. We all have the ability to shape our destiny. And it begins with believing we can.


Worries, regrets, and complaints solve nothing. They change nothing. Rather they undermine your health, your social environment and your quality of life.


Difficult situations are rarely resolved with positive thoughts or gratitude alone, however. It takes another crucial ingredient: sustained action.


Even then, some problems are intractable. Others - like the death of a loved one - are insoluble. In certain circumstances, only an attitude of acceptance moves us forward.


Most of our day-to-day problems, however, are created by the person in the mirror.


We made them. And we can fix them.


According to Unitarian pastor Preston Bradley, "The world has a way of giving what is demanded of it. If you are frightened and look for failure and poverty, you will get them, no matter how hard you may try to succeed. Lack of faith in yourself, in what life will do for you, cuts you off from the good things in the world. Expect victory and make victory. Nowhere is this truer than in the business of life, where bravery and faith bring both material and spiritual rewards."


This lesson is best learned at an early age. Once when I was about seven years old, for instance, my father asked me to load some heavy-looking boxes into his car.


I looked them over doubtfully. "I can't," I said.


It was one of the few times I've ever seen him really angry. "What was that word you just used?" he demanded.


"Can't?" I asked, sheepish.


"I don't ever want to hear you use that word again."


Then he strode off... as I (ahem) loaded the boxes.


Journalist Sam Levenson had a similar experience:


"It was on my fifth birthday that Papa put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Remember, my son, if you ever need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of your arm.'"


I'm not suggesting that it's wrong to ask for help. Under certain circumstances, you won't succeed without it. We could all use a boost from time to time.


But it's much more satisfying - and dignifying - when we solve our problems ourselves.


In addition to showing us what we're made of, working through our setbacks makes us more sensitive to - and more compassionate toward - the problems of our fellowmen.


Look around and you'll see plenty of good people with more troubles than you. This is the season to remember them, incidentally. (Although the true spirit of Thanksliving means remembering - and giving - all year round.)


Whatever problems you're grappling with - personal, social or financial - the best course is always to face them with all the courage, patience and equanimity you can muster.


And, if possible, be grateful. Opportunity often shows up disguised as hard work.


On occasion, of course, our problems are simply bigger than we are. In an address in 1859, Abraham Lincoln recounted the tale of King Solomon:


"It is said that an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him with the words: 'And this, too, shall pass away.' How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!"


And how applicable in every day and age...


Whatever your problems, few of them can withstand the onslaught of optimism, persistence, and a genuine spirit of gratitude. So get moving.


As the poet Robert Frost reminds us, "The best way out is always through."


Carpe Diem,




P.S. My publisher Julia Guth shared an inspiring Thanksgiving message with readers last week. If you have not had the opportunity to read it, please click here <> .


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