Getting trapped within yourself is the definition of hell, right? My professor recently tried to explain to me that Kant doesn't even make it to the order of intentionality because nothing exists outside of his own mind. When I suggested that Kant just wanted to be in heaven, he corrected me by saying "No, he wants to be in hell!" I think this is what happens to us when we get consumed in our own thoughts, worries, and cares.
I believe in a will to meaning (Frankl), as opposed to Nietzsche's will to power and Freud's will to pleasure. Everyone needs to know that their life has meaning, and I would say that this can only be found in relationship. In isolation, nothing seems worth it. When you bring others into the picture, it can elicit within us the noblest of ideals.
This is an evangelical principle. The conviction that you have a responsibility to others, that you have something to offer them even as a mere instrument or conduit of truth and love-- to which I think the individual does make a unique contribution in the transmitting process, but even without that, the value of the person for another remains-- brings with it a sense of purpose. It brings you out of yourself, which is the definition of ecstasy, right? So the pleasure of joy in doing God's will is a bi-product of being a gift to another.
And thus happiness, bliss, eudaimonia, or beatitude cannot efficaciously be sought for one's own sake-- it's only at the moment that you leave it aside that it comes to you. And it comes to you precisely in fulfilling your purpose. God has created you in community, for others. Mother Teresa is oft quoted as saying charity begins at home. It's easy to claim that you love humanity as a whole, that you're pro-immigrant, when you won't invite that obnoxious "stray cat" (to use my father's term) in your life over for Thanksgiving.
Arthur Brooks addressed an important issue, per usual for him, in the New York Times last week. He was looking at the role of emotions in acts of thanksgiving. Must one feel grateful in order to give thanks-- in order to be true to yourself? No, he says. Utilize your will to choose your attitude and perform mental acts of gratitude, and this active habit will elicit the corresponding emotions. Don't wait to be grateful, give thanks anyway.
Now don't get me wrong-- I'm in the heart camp. I'm a big fan of emotions, and I have a lot of them. I think eros is absolutely essential in love. But eros, longing or desire, is what brings you out of yourself. John Paul II describes it as a step on a staircase, and my professor reminded me that this is not a one-way flight of stairs, but one that as Pope Benedict would often remind us, we are continually ascending and descending-- being filled, going out in charity, returning to God, and pouring ourselves back out in service.
So ascend the mountain as you prepare for Thanksgiving. Receive from God the grace He wants to pour out on you. Make acts of thanksgiving for the people in your lives. Ask for the grace to be truly grateful for them in all their imperfections. And then descend the mountain to serve them. Be ready and fortified to give Him to Others, and the joy will come.
On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789, as an official holiday of “sincere and humble thanks.” The nation then celebrated its first Thanksgiving under its new Constitution. On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln made the traditional Thanksgiving celebration a nationwide holiday to be commemorated each year on the fourth Thursday of November. In the midst of a bloody Civil War, President Lincoln issued a Presidential Proclamation in which he enumerated the blessings of the American people and called upon his countrymen to "set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise."