Thanksgiving can be challenging when surrounded by plenty

Scott Swanson

How thankful am I?

That’s a question I’ve asked myself in recent weeks as we’ve closed in on the day we set aside to express our gratitude for the good things we’ve been given – assuming we’re not too swept up in football and food.

I admit it, I’m not very thankful.

I frequently receive submissions for possible use in our newspaper. We often don’t have a lot of space for outside commentary, but I usually glance over them just out of curiosity over what the author’s point is. One that came recently was by Dr. Gary Welton, a psychologist and college dean, who was discussing thankfulness.

He noted that a colleague in his field has done research on happiness and has pointed out that as we quickly adapt to our current context, our happiness quotient diminishes. Cutting through the gobbledy-gook, what he’s saying is things get old quickly. That’s why, when we go shopping for a new car to replace our old beater, it’s really exciting and we get those warm, ecstatic feelings. But a month later it’s not quite as much of a rush, even though the car may still look new and run well.

We get used to things, good or bad. Sometimes that adaptation might be good. Sometimes it might breed discontent when we should be feeling blessed. Dr. Welton offered plenty of examples that I won’t repeat here, namely because I can think of plenty of my own.

One good result might be what happened after I broke my ankle one time and had to walk with crutches. The first week, it was extremely painful and those crutches are extremely inconvenient. I may have complained about that. It inhibited my style.

By Week 2, though, while it still hurt a lot, I was used to the pain and I’d gotten pretty good with the crutches. I knew how to jam them into heavy spring-loaded swinging doors to keep them open while I slid past. I stopped complaining. I’d adapted to my context. Those of us who know people with serious disabilities are sometimes amazing how they often do not complain much at all – even when though they may not have a mellow, forgiving personality. They’ve gotten used to their circumstances and they’ve moved on, so to speak.

The converse, though, is also true. Just like we get used to adverse circumstances, we get used to the good stuff too. I don’t think I am the only American who is inherently unthankful.

Let’s see, what is there that I should be thankful for right about now? Well, my doctor tells me I’m in great health. My wife and I just celebrated 25 years of marriage. The kids haven’t flunked out of high school or college. My daughter’s car doesn’t have a blown head gasket after all. The economy has improved, so a lot of folks I know aren’t feeling the financial distress they were a few years ago. My pets seem to be in good health – too good, in the case of one who keeps breaking through our fence.

Hmmm, I live in a community located amid one of the finest stands of tall trees in the world. I look out and I don’t see a thick blanket of fog very often, like our neighbors down the road do. I see sunshine. I hear birds. I see raindrops. The rain can be a pain, but anyone who has ever lived somewhere where it rained twice in one year, as I have, appreciates rain. Water is life. No water, no life. It’s easy to forget that here.

I see clean air, not the brown haze that hung over Southern California when I once resided there. Instead of six-lane connector streets with a stoplight every three blocks, I have two stop signs between my home and my job. Instead of 17 million people and their homes, jobs, stores, social gathering spots, etc. stretching for 50-plus miles in any direction, I have 15,000 people spread out over about eight miles in any direction.

Think about how easy we have it.

We can hop in a car or on a plane and be hundreds of miles away in hours. That used to take days or months. Instead of having to chop firewood during the summer to keep us alive through the winter, we just flip a switch and we can get gas or wood pellet or heat pump or electric heat – at whatever temperature we desire. Instead of driving horses or oxen in 100-degree heat or winter snow to pick up logs cut by hand with a misery whip, we’ve got air-conditioned trucks with air-ride seats and snazzy (air-conditioned) machines that cut through one of those trees in a split second, delimb it and cut it to the exact length the buyer wants.

Instead of cultivating a garden by hand all summer and picking every edible berry and twig we can find to keep us alive in the winter, we simply go to a store and pick from a wide selection of staples ingredients, meats, fruits, vegetables, ethnic foods, frozen foods, etc. Then we go home and cook Thanksgiving dinner.

I could go on and on, but the point should be clear. So how thankful are we, really?

If you’ve ever climbed a tall mountain you know that priorities are drastically different than they are down in the parking lot or in your living room.

At home you might be picky about what brand of soft drink or coffee you prefer or whether your bread is white or whole-grain.

When you reach the parking lot at the base of the mountain, your concerns change. Do I have the right shoes on? Do I have my first aid kit? Do I have sufficient food and water for an all-day hike? Do I have extra layers for weather changes?

Up around 10,000 feet, when altitude sickness sets in, your priorities change again. You don’t care about coffee or soft drink brands at all. You’re gasping for breath. Your legs are weak. That rock you’re sitting on feels like an armchair. The tepid water in your bottle tastes like fine wine. You’re sincerely thankful.

I’m surrounded by plenty. This season I resolve to be thankful to the One who gave it all to us.