On Giving Thanks

Written by Michael Huling

It’s astonishing how fast this year has gone by and it’s crazy to think that we’re just a month away from a new year.

I don’t believe I’ve ever written anything for Thanksgiving, but I felt like sharing a few words that have been on my mind today.

For starters, I love Thanksgiving. I love the football, the food, the drinks, the gluttonous desire to devour plate after plate, the smiles and laughs around the table with the occasional “mmm” when someone bites into a dish they particularly enjoy (mashed potatoes with gravy, in my case). But most of all, I love the gratitude rooted in Thanksgiving.

I believe we’re suffering from a profound lack of gratitude in our lives, which results in everything from disdain and depression to polarization and the collapse of civil society. We spend so much time complaining about what we don’t have and envying others for what they do have—and I’m as guilty of this as anyone. In the process, we lose sight of just how lucky we are.

Everything from basic necessities of food, water, and housing to luxuries of vaccines, indoor plumbing, hot water, refrigeration, electricity, automobiles, the internet, and the list goes on. Things that our ancestors never enjoyed and that were nonexistent until the last few centuries. We’re so immersed in our privileges that we’re almost immune to them. Like a fish that spends its entire life underwater without once understanding or even considering what its life would be like without water.

That’s not to say that everyone around the world benefits from all of these things, far from it. We still have hundreds of millions of people suffering from poverty, hunger, disease, warfare, you name it. Issues like climate change and nuclear catastrophe remain credible threats to our way of life.

In spite of all this suffering, we’d be foolish to ignore the incredible and undeniable progress we’ve made. According to Human Progress, 94% of the world lived in extreme poverty in 1820. By 1990, that number declined to 34.8%, and today it stands below 10%. The New York Times notes that each day, the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world decreases by 217,000, 300,000 more people gain access to clean drinking water, and 325,000 more gain access to electricity. It’s no exaggeration to call this a miracle.

However, it’s not just the materialistic aspect of life that has improved so dramatically. The spread of vaccines, medication, education, literacy, democracy, and markets has transformed human life. While the developments of modernity aren’t without consequences—such as inequality and environmental degradation—the Kuznets Curve suggests that both of these things are destined to reduce as economies develop. In short, when nations become industrialized and wealthy, they can afford to care about the poor and the climate.

Most people just aren’t aware of these things, and I think that ignorance contributes to ingratitude. If we are to continue expanding on our progress, it’s vital that we have gratitude for what has already been accomplished.

I’ve long said that Christmas is my favorite holiday and suggested that it’s essentially Thanksgiving with presents. While I may be giving short shrift to the historical underpinnings of both—as modernity often compels us to—I genuinely love both holidays.

There’s something in the American psyche that changes during this time of year. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but in the midst of the craziness that accompanies life, people seem to settle down a bit and live in the moment. It may just be a temporary change, but it’s good for the soul. So enjoy today with family and friends, sharing food, love, and gratitude with one another.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

-Philippians 4:6-7

Happy Thanksgiving.