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Gratitude and the meaning of life

A Message to My Students on Thanksgiving Day 2023

Dear students, I hope this message finds you well.

Nine years ago, I had my first Thanksgiving Day; that was the year that my family and I moved to this beautiful country. As many of you know, it was also the most challenging year of my life. However, when I attended that Thanksgiving Day, I was surprised by the historical and, most importantly, the present value. As a psychologist and religious man, I know gratitude's impact on appreciating life and our general well-being. Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Martin Seligman have tested the effects of gratitude in our lives, and the outcomes are extraordinary: people live longer, appreciate life and loved ones better, have better physical and mental health, and so on.

With such a beautiful experience, my family and I adopted this American tradition because we recognized that there are many things to be grateful for, and one of the top 5 is that we live in this fantastic country.

Sadly, in these nine years, I have also noticed a growing unappreciation of what the United States is. The media, social media, and politicians have bombarded us with negative news promoting social division to the point that many people falsely think, as Dr. Clay Routledge has shown in his research, “these are the worst times in human history.”

Well, they are not. Dr. Bjorn Lomborg´s research has highlighted advances and progress in a very articulated way. He has proven that in many variables, we live in the best times of all the time. Poverty, social inequality, and death by violence have never been as low as now. Life expectancy, educational opportunities, and more have never been as high as now.

However, we cannot be naive and think everything is right and perfect. False optimism can be dangerous, with a significant risk of not attending what we must attend and working for the common good and the Kingdom of God. The last four years have indeed been challenging for many. Death, sickness, pandemic, war, economic problems, social tension, and isolation have become a reality for many of us, with a significant toll on mental health, family life, communities, and, sadly, religious life as well. But we have also seen that many have found that despite these adversities, life still has meaning and that growing out of adversity is a possibility and a necessity. We were created for the future so that one day we can join Our Lord in heaven, and because of that, we are always oriented to move forward. To remain static and indifferent is contrary to our nature and the purpose for which we were created. Therefore, we need to find a way to grow despite the difficulties, the challenges, the suffering, and the adversity in our lives and our times.

With that in mind, I encourage you to remember Our Lord's call: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mark 8: 34-35). As we have discussed before in class, the suffering of the cross is not meaningless but transformative. That was Our Lord's experience, which could also be our experience. When we embrace our cross, when we accept our cross, we can transform ourselves.

The United States is a land of freedom; we need to be thankful but also careful. As Dr. Viktor Frankl said:

Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

So, I would like to conclude by inviting you to be thankful for this beautiful country, for the many blessings that we all have, and even thankful for the sufferings and pain that are working for our good in the transformative power of the cross. But I also want to invite you to see that it is only in the complementary of freedom and responsibility that we will find the real meaning of life, which is God's call and purpose for each of us. We were born in these times not to remain indifferent, be hedonistic, selfish, or to achieve our personal goals. We were born in these times to make God known to everyone, and that begins with us knowing Him in the deepest part of our souls. Remember, each one of us is the result of divine thought. God has been thinking of you since the beginning of time.

I wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving Day, and I thank you because, without you, I would not be a professor. My purpose and meaning would not be possible without you.

Dr. Mario Guzman

Associate Professor of Psychology


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