A New Year’s Resolution of Thanksgiving

by John Lumbard.

  “A growing body of research suggests that maintaining an attitude of gratitude can improve psychological, emotional and physical well-being.  Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholic. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections . . . . Kids who feel and act grateful tend to be less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches and feel more satisfied with their friends, families and schools than those who don’t.”

                                     — Melinda Beck, The Wall Street Journal

 Gratitude is good, and it’s not just a one-way street.  The act of giving brings similar benefits, particularly when there’s more involved than just writing a check.  Each year tens of millions of Americans devote great chunks of their free time to charitable activities, and find that their lives are deeply enriched by the experience. 

You would think that these truths would be well known, at least on an intuitive level, but millions of our best-educated and most-sophisticated citizens haven’t a clue.  It’s a problem for families and child-rearing, and it’s a problem for national policy.  For many years now the prevailing attitude has been that government can do a better job of taking care of our less-fortunate citizens, because it can insist that all Americans of means pay their fair share.

Government does need to provide a safety net, and it is true that charity is an afterthought to many Americans.  Syracuse University’s Arthur Brooks says that politics are not a factor here;  religious people are twice as likely as secular liberals or conservatives to give blood, volunteer for non-religious charitable work, or engage in non-religious financial giving.

The important point is that we all lose when government crowds out private charity, either by taking over services that were already well-funded or by taxing at levels that cause charity to shrink.  Taxpayer-funded charities are monstrously inefficient when compared to private charities, and they engender no sense of gratitude among the recipients;  in fact, gratitude is often replaced by a disgruntled sense of entitlement.  And the donors lose nearly as much;  has anybody ever derived satisfaction from writing a check to the IRS?

Our nation needs to balance its budgets, so taxes will rise in the years ahead.  And much of the revenue collected will be spent on things that only government can do or will do.  The key is to recognize that government is not a cornucopia, but the deep pocket of last resort.  When government steps away, we all need to step up—to enrich our lives further with the joys of giving.

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