Giving thanks once a year has been institutionalized in the United States since the time of Abraham Lincoln, at least. And so on the third Thursday of every November, we sit around a table, eat too much, and say that we are thankful.

Sometimes, we may actually be specific in what we are thankful for. For myself, I have a tendency to begin by enumerating material objects. For instance, I might give thanks for having a house, or for my cars, or perhaps for items in my house, like digital high definition cable TV or a broadband internet connection. The last two are particularly delightful things.

Only later—perhaps because they start glaring at me—will I mention my three adorable daughters and my equally adorable wife of more than twenty-eight years. Maybe I’ll mention my parents and sister, and my friends, as well.

But there are other things that we take for granted that perhaps I should think about more often to give thanks for.

For instance, breathing is really a cool thing to be able to do. Since I developed asthma (of the seasonal variety) I’ve become a lot more conscious of this simple pleasure. So I should be thankful for my allergist, and for the drug companies and their researchers that invested enormous amounts of time and money to come up with treatments that keep me mostly symptom free.

Food. In the United States, we have such an abundance that our biggest health problem is obesity. This stands in sharp contrast to ninety-nine percent of the world through ninety-nine percent of its history, for whom starvation was the serious problem.

Freedom and democracy. Although it’s thankfully been on the rise the last decade or so, it is a rare and precious thing. Ninety-nine percent of the human race through ninety-nine percent of its history didn’t know what it was. Now we simply assume it as a birthright. Eternal vigilance is still a good idea and it’s something never to take for granted.

Life. The simple fact of being alive in a universe that is more than ninety-nine percent dead hydrogen gas is something to revel in.

And frankly, being thankful for all these things will probably be good for us. In fact, if we did this more often in our lives than once a year, since enumerating things we otherwise take for granted can help us keep our lives in perspective just a bit, to let us see that just because we had a flat tire, or even a major tragedy, does not mean there’s nothing to feel good about.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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