Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. As a kid I naturally preferred Christmas, but now that I’m older and have growing children of my own, I’ve come to realize that the anticipation of receiving gifts robs Christmas of much of its potential. That potential, of course, is spending time with our family simply because we enjoy their company (hopefully more than their presents). Also, I like the fact that Thanksgiving is all about, well, being thankful. Something I’m trying to get better at.

Most of us spend far too much time throughout the year wishing we had more. More money, a bigger house, a nicer car, new clothes…just more stuff. However on Thanksgiving — one day each year — we find time to be thankful for what we already have. Let’s face it, most of us have enough, if not more than we need. This year I find myself giving extra thought to how fortunate I am. I’m thinking not just about how incredibly lucky I am to have my family and all the other essential “stuff,” but also about how and why I got where I am today.

I’m thinking about how I was born into freedom in the United States, why I happened to make the friends I did, how I fell in love with such an incredible woman, and why I was somehow chosen to get the two amazing children I have. I’m thinking about how each step along the way — hundreds or thousands of seemingly irrelevant decisions — could have taken me in a completely different direction. While I can imagine taking a different route in life, I can’t imagine doing it with different traveling companions.

This year I find myself not only thankful, but thinking about those less fortunate. I think about anyone who truly doesn’t have someone to love, parents who have a child fighting some horrible illness, and those with little time left to live. I could be one of these people. I’m grateful that I am spared from problems like these this year, but my heart goes out to those who are not. I sincerely hope they find something to be thankful for.

I ask myself why I’m not one of the homeless people I drive past who are standing in the cold under a waning sun, holding up a sign asking for food. Many of these people had the same opportunities that I did, but were wounded in war, suffer from mental illness, or perhaps just made bad decisions that they now terribly regret. I think about how they might feel tonight as they look for a warm, safe place to rest their worn out bodies. What do they go to sleep thankful for — a piece of bread, a blanket, or maybe a bottle? I’m grateful I don’t share these circumstances, and I hope these people can turn their lives around. Until then, I won’t look away, but instead will do what I can to help.

I think about those who happened to be born in other parts of the world, such as the Middle East, the poorest villages of Africa, or communist North Korea. This could have been me — I was given no choice. I could be an innocent man assumed to have a hidden agenda, who is running from a war-ravaged home with nowhere to go, desperately trying to make my family safe. It could be me who is forced to walk miles to the nearest stream each day so that I can get just enough dirty water for my family to survive. I could have been born in a country that won’t allow me the freedom to raise my family the way I see fit. What are these people thankful for? I trust they can at least find gratitude in having a family to care for. 

I’m not using the unfortunate circumstances of others as a measuring stick to make me feel better. I simply feel it is important to remember what others may be experiencing, and to avoid taking anything for granted. Imagine how much happier we could be if we truly practiced gratitude each day, rather than wishing for something else. If we can’t be happy with what we have, why is there any reason to believe we would be happier with more? Keep in mind that our lives can change extremely fast. What we think isn’t enough now, could easily become much less.

Melody Beattie wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house in a home, a stranger into a friend.” This year I hope all of us — regardless of our circumstances — can find something to be grateful for. As we are being thankful, let us also make sure to be “thinkful,” and remember those who are less fortunate.

Cheers and happy Thanksgiving. May everyone’s glass be full enough.