Thanksgiving: a holiday or a way of life?

My family, like many others in the US, has a Thanksgiving Day tradition of going around the dinner table and having each of us reveal one thing we are thankful for. The responses usually include such things as family, health, talents and abilities, and freedom.1

Growing up I always hated this part of the holidays. A natural introvert, I pretty much shirked anything even remotely related to public speaking—and that included dinnertime testimonials. But my parents always stressed the importance of identifying the things we were thankful for and sharing these examples with others, no matter how uncomfortable it might make us feel.

Now that I’m married with children of my own, I’ve thought more about this holiday tradition. Why was it so important to my parents that all of us expressed our thanks? Was it simply another exercise in discipline and social conditioning? Or was there something more at stake?

But before we think about the importance of being thankful, we might ask a pressing question: Is there really anything out there for us to be thankful for?

A quick look at the news headlines can make you wonder. Looking at the toll life has taken on each of us, as well as our friends and family, can be equally sobering. It’s hard to feel thankful when your son has just been killed in a motorcycle crash (something that happened to one of my friends just this past week).

Yet there are things to be thankful for. Our simplest abilities—breathing, walking, talking, hearing, seeing—are all gifts that have been given to us without any effort or earning on our part.

Much of our material blessings fall into the same category. That’s not to say it didn’t take effort and resolve to fill out the job application, complete the interview, show up the first day, and then continue to prove yourself to earn your wages.

But where did those skills come from in the first place? And how is it that you’ve gone an entire year without using a single sick day? And what about the critical human abilities we exercise when we drive a car, operate a computer, answer the telephone, or walk to the printer?

Blessings, indeed, surround us every day.

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