There are times when I feel a swell of gratitude building up in me—so much so that it becomes all encompassing.
It happened to me this morning, clearly triggered by a pristine morning, kids that were actually behaving themselves as they played happily on the beach, and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
As the rest of the world increasingly looks at many aspects of American culture with a critical or questioning eye, Thanksgiving is an undeniable bright spot. It’s a day where most people I know at least take a moment to reflect on their good fortunes, to spend time with friends and family, and to feast. What’s not to love about that?
But Thanksgiving more than anything is about gratitude. We’re asked to share what we’re thankful for. And as I reflect on that prompt, I keep coming back to the same thought…
I’m grateful for everything.
In recent years I’ve come to recognize this feeling as a defining—maybe the defining—aspect of my personality. I am grateful that I have anything, and in many ways I feel surprised that I do. I think about this, consciously, almost every day—usually while I’m eating. And I don’t know where this feeling comes from. Most people I’ve come across who share a similar sentiment were deprived of some sort of basic necessity in the past—the feeling a recognition of how much their situation has improved, of their most basic of human needs finally being met.
That’s not me—I grew up in a stable and loving middle class family, with plenty of food on the table, and parents who prioritized my education and general well being. I was never in need. Yet I still have this overwhelming feeling of being grateful that I have anything at all.
In most ways this is an aspect of myself that I view as a positive and appreciate—but it’s not all good. For example, my wife recently wanted to buy a new couch that we couldn’t afford.
“That’s more than we can afford to spend,” I said over dinner. “But at least we’re lucky to have this food on our plates.”
I didn’t need to look up from my peas to know that she was rolling her eyes at me…
“I know we’re lucky, you idiot. I can just want the new couch you know.”
Beyond that, I don’t think this is always the healthiest mindset. Most people who work hard and achieve some level of success attribute their good fortune to their hard work. They earned it. They deserve the spoils because of the effort they put it.
I’ve never really felt like I’ve deserved anything, no matter how much effort I put in. My mindset has always been that if something good happens that I worked hard for, I was fortunate and my hard work put me in the position to have that opportunity. But it’s every bit as likely that the good thing could not have happened, despite the hard work.
While in most instances I don’t think feeling like you deserve something is very healthy, I do think there’s an aspect of allowing yourself to feel like you earned something that is. But I struggle with this—when I look out my window I see an awful lot of people who have worked every bit as hard, yet whose lives haven’t granted them the same opportunities or rewards.
I think about the poor, who don’t have enough to eat. I think about the chronically ill—people whose health conditions make it difficult for them to live a comfortable life every… single …day. This year I’m thinking about the people in Ukraine—can you imagine if Russian tanks were driving through bombed out streets in your town as your family tried to assemble for a Thanksgiving meal?
So when I’m asked what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving I have a really hard time isolating a few specific things, or turning my gratitude into a list of bullet points.
I’m thankful for it all.