Geoffrey Holt was the caretaker of a mobile home park in Hinsdale, a town of 4,200 people in the southwest corner of New Hampshire. His mobile home had no TV or computer; the legs of his bed went through the floor. While he collected hundreds of model cars and train sets as well as classical records and books about history, he gave up driving a car and rode his lawn mower around town. “He seemed to have what he wanted, but he didn’t want much,” his best friend said.
However, Geoffrey Holt died earlier this year with a secret: he was a multimillionaire.
He had worked as a production manager at a grain mill and invested his money. In his will, he gave it all away: $3.8 million to the town to benefit the community in the areas of education, health, recreation, and culture. A town official said, “I know he didn’t have a whole lot of family, but nonetheless, to leave it to the town where he lived in . . . It’s a tremendous gift.”
Mr. Holt’s benevolence was indeed a gift, which Webster defines as “something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.” Let’s consider this definition and Geoffrey Holt’s example on this Thanksgiving Day.
A lesson from Cubans on happiness
Since six in ten of us are hoping to avoid politics today, we’ll go a different direction: respondents to a recent poll said they would need to make $284,000 a year to achieve happiness. This would be quite a raise since the median household income in the US stands at about $74,000 annually. While our median net worth is $192,900, we’d also want $1.2 million in the bank to feel content.
Perhaps we should learn from history.
Americans’ inflation-adjusted per capita income tripled between 1960 and 2000, but the percentage of Americans who state they are “very happy” declined from 40 percent to just over 30 percent. By contrast, while a horrific economic crisis continues in Cuba, with food production and the supply of pharmaceuticals down by at least 50 percent since 2018, my Cuban friends are some of the most joyful and generous Christians I have ever met. They are continuing to lead revival efforts that are transforming churches and Cubans across the island.
Here’s the difference: they focus more on what they have than what they need and credit God for all they have. They know that “every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Since all they have is the result of God’s grace rather than their merit, they are empowered to love others as he loves them.
“The problem is how to subdue reality”
I am reading again C. S. Lewis’s prophetic book, The Abolition of Man. His argument for objective values based on unchanging principles is as relevant and urgent today as when it was published eighty years ago.
For example, Lewis writes: “For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality; and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.” By contrast, for “applied science” in contemporary culture, “the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.”
For example, medical science seeks to “subdue reality” by preventing or treating disease. Technological advances “subdue reality” to our wishes and needs, from air conditioning in the summer and central heat in the winter to vehicles that transport us in ways our ancestors would not have imagined and a host of other examples.
Such advances are fueled by a capitalistic system that rewards innovation, but this system also turns people into consumers. In such a consumption-based economy, we must continually be convinced that we need more than we have so we will buy more of what producers are selling.
Now, with Black Friday on the horizon and the Christmas buying season already in full swing, let me ask you: When last did you stop to thank God for all you have?
Why should you?
When “Thanksgiving is a success”
The harder life becomes, the more we need the benefits of gratitude.
In one study, participants who wrote down things for which they were grateful felt more optimistic about life and had fewer doctor visits than those who wrote about irritations or complaints. In another study, participants who wrote letters of gratitude to other people were happier, more satisfied with life, and experienced fewer symptoms of depression.
Here’s the place to begin such thanksgiving: with your Savior. Take a moment to consider Jesus’ death on your cross to pay for your sins. Consider his intercession for you at this very moment (Romans 8:34) and the fact that one day he will take you to be with him in paradise forever (John 14:3; Luke 23:43). Remember the last sin he forgave and the last prayer he answered. And “be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).
One byproduct of such gratitude is that we want to share the gifts we receive. Grandparents cannot stop bragging about their grandkids (especially when they are as perfect as mine). When we see a good movie, we tell our friends so they can have the same experience.
When we “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), we “enter [God’s] gates with thanksgiving” (Psalm 100:4) and experience his transforming presence so powerfully that our joy honors our Lord and our joyful service glorifies him.
To summarize: as my wife wrote in her blog yesterday, “Thanksgiving is a success if we have served God by serving others.”
Will Thanksgiving be a success for you today?