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 nearly thirty 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.
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.
Whether you’re happy with the outcome of the election just past or not, one can still be thankful that we at least are able to have elections and have been having them peacefully for more than two hundred years. There aren’t many places in the world that can say that, or that can have confidence that transitions from one administration to the next will occur without bloodshed of any sort—and who know that in a few short years we can easily replace the rascals we’ve elected with new ones.
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.
We can be thankful for the things that we usually don’t notice. I’m thankful for my morning coffee every day. I’m thankful for hot water in my shower. I’m thankful for modern medicine and dentistry. I’m thankful for the roads and the other benefits of civilization like electricity and microwave popcorn.
I’m thankful for a bed to sleep in and for cheap and plentiful food supplies. Historically, the sin of gluttony was condemned because it meant you were eating more than your fair share, taking food that could have sustained someone else. Now, when we think of gluttony, we see it as poor discipline: a lack of self-control. For most of human history, our biggest problem was starvation. In these United States, our biggest worry now is obesity. And the fattest among us tend to also be our poorest (who can’t afford gym memberships or racquetball court fees). How odd is that?
And frankly, being thankful for all these things will probably be good for us. Enumerating things we otherwise take for granted can help us keep our lives in perspective just a bit. Just because we had a flat tire, or even a major tragedy, does not mean there’s nothing to feel good about in our lives. For most of us, for most of the time, things are good.