Gratitude for the things money can’t buy

My refrigerator’s looking pretty bare, but I can’t shop for groceries, because my checking account’s practically zeroed out. Fortunately my predicament’s temporary, because tomorrow’s the fourth Tuesday of the month, and that means my Social Security payment will magically appear in my account, followed on the last day of the month by my New York State retirement check.

Actually my situation’s not as grim as this suggests, because my significant other can make up the shortfall and then some. If I were forced to live on my retirement income alone, I’d be in dire straits, like so many millions of single women in this country. This time of year especially, I’m enormously grateful for my good fortune. I’m thankful, too, that Obama won the election; if the Republicans had their way, the safety net that helps sustain our society might well have been destroyed, plunging countless millions into ever deepening poverty while the privileged one percent continue raking in the big bucks.

As always, this Thanksgiving brought lots of talk about gratitude, and it’s almost mandatory to maintain an attitude of good cheer through the coming weeks. Well before Thanksgiving, my favorite oldies station began playing nonstop Christmas music, and I’ll admit I enjoy it up to a point, but I can’t agree with Andy Williams when he sings “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” (He died this year, but his rendition of this saccharine song endures.)

Van Gogh

According to a recent poll, 45% of Americans are so financially stressed this time of year that they wish Christmas would simply disappear. The findings are dubious, though, because the survey was sponsored by a company that focuses on risky financial instruments designed for people already living perilously close to their personal financial cliffs.

In recent years, I’ve been doing my best to live within my means, modest as they may be. I paid off and then cancelled all but one of my credit cards, and I haven’t used that one in years. I haven’t even activated it when they send me a new one, but I’m still paying off the balance. I’ll admit I’m tempted to resurrect it to add to my family’s holiday cheer this Christmas, but if I do, I swear I’ll be ultra-cautious with it.

I’m grateful that as I age, I crave less and less in the way of material possessions. I’ve already got more than I need, and I had no problem boycotting Black Friday and Cyber Monday, especially since I didn’t have the wherewithal to pay in cash. My house is already overflowing with stuff I can’t bear to part with, so why add to the clutter?

As part of a spiritual deepening program in my Unitarian Universalist congregation, I’ve begun making a daily list of the things I’m grateful for. The trick is to select a number and stick to it each day. I’ve chosen the number seven, and it’s surprisingly easy to come up with that many. Right now, for example, I’m grateful for:

  1. My cat Lunesta, dozing and purring between my legs
  2. My husband, reading in the recliner across from mine
  3. My dog Sirius, lying on guard next to the front door
  4. My house – be it ever so humble, it’s warm and dry, and we own it
  5. The wonderful group of women writers I met with this afternoon
  6. Their laughter and enthusiasm when I read a scene from my novel
  7. National Novel Writing Month ends this Friday, and I’m going to meet my quota of 50,000 words

I could go on – I haven’t even mentioned my daughter and granddaughters – but you get the idea. Family, friends, pets, creativity – simple things, and except for our modest mortgage, they don’t cost a cent.

Are you feeling grateful this time of year? Do you love the holidays, or are you more like those folks in the survey who wish they’d go away?