Letters to the Editor

Showing gratitude at Thanksgiving ... and beyond

You’ve probably heard, or even experienced, that San Luis Obispo is the happiest place in America.

A 2008 Gallup-Healthways poll found that San Luis Obispo residents ranked No. 1 in overall emotional health in the United States. And just this year, San Luis Obispo was ranked as the healthiest city in California by 24/7 Wall St. When we look at our weather, our proximity to the ocean, our arts community, our healthcare availability, our involvement in outdoor recreation, our levels of education and wealth, it’s easy to see we are truly blessed to live in such a place.

A Google search will link you to thousands of articles, many of them based on actual research, showing that gratitude is a key ingredient to both health and happiness. Thankful people take better care of themselves, have more friends, feel more joy, experience lower levels of stress and increased levels of immune response, according to WebMD. When studies show that San Luis Obispo is healthier and happier, one of the key causes may be that we are thankful.

My family moved to the area in 2012 so I could become the pastor of the San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay Seventh-day Adventist churches. Because of housing prices and pastors’ salaries, we settled in Grover Beach. So every day as I drive to work, I experience the thrill of Pismo, Shell Beach and Avila Beach spreading out before me. During our first several months, we would come up over the Avila ridge and my wife and I would just look at each other and say, “Can you believe we get to live here?”

So how do we show gratitude for that?

I suppose I could write a thank-you letter to the mayor or county administrator or the Port San Luis Harbor Commission. Truth be told, I would probably benefit my spirit considerably by writing more thank-you notes to more people for the ways they bless me and benefit the community.

But to whom do I write a thank-you note about my health? Or about the fact that I woke up this morning warm and employed, with a wife, son, dog, food in the cupboard and a car in the garage? In every faith tradition, God is the recipient of this thanks. In fact, thankfulness is the bedrock of worship.

Native cultures thank the Great Spirit for the harvest or for a successful hunt. Abraham thanked God for rescuing Lot from Chedorlaomer. Hindu tradition holds it as a moral imperative to be thankful for everything we receive. And cultivating gratitude leads Buddhists to the “direct experience of the interconnectedness of all life,” according to author and meditation teacher Phillip Moffitt.

And in each of these traditions, gratitude begets generosity. The response of gratitude toward God may be expressed in prayer and song and enumerating blessings before others. But it is not enough. When we are truly grateful for the blessings we have received, we will also want to become a blessing to others.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:11, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

In other words, a proper response of our gratitude is sharing with others so they, too, may experience gratitude.

San Luis Obispo may be one of the healthiest and happiest places in the United States, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people suffering here. There are lonely, hurting, hungry, sick and imprisoned people in our community. This holiday season, as we reflect on the blessings we’ve received, what ways can we find to share those blessings with others?

For beginners, I invite you to join the San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association as we kick off this holiday season with a joyful burst of gratitude at our annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration, and contemplate how we can all share our blessings with others.

Jay Perry is pastor of the San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay Seventh-day Adventist churches, and president of the SLO Ministerial Association.

Join interfaith celebration

The San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association’s annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration begins at 3 p.m. Sunday at United Church of Christ, 11245 Los Osos Valley Road. This year’s theme is Religious Unity in a Divided World. This is a family-friendly event, and refreshments and child care will be provided.

An offering will be collected for the Homeless Foundation, Restorative Partners and the Women’s Shelter. Those attending also are invited to bring nonperishable food items for donation. For more information, email Pastor Jason Sisk-Provencio at jjason@sloucc.org.