giving thanks


(Image from

(Yeah, I know it’s a week late. So what.)

Family dinner was an important part of the daily routine at the Allen house growing up, and every family dinner started with grace. But it wasn’t quite like the pre-meal prayers you usually see on tv or in movies. It was a simple accounting of something from that day for which you were thankful. We would go around the table, youngest to oldest, and say “thank you” for something from that day. Dinner guests were always invited to contribute, but it was never required.

Daily grace is something that I miss in my life a little bit, because it provided constant perspective: there are a whole lot of things to be thankful for.

Some of the obvious things I’m thankful for:

My friends and family. I group these two together because, in different ways, they are each the most important thing in my life. They each provide a constant stream of support in their own way, without which I would be totally lost.

My cat. Obviously. Because she’s adorable.

My job. Though I am planning to leave it soon to pursue some new thing, if you have one, it’s hard not to be thankful for your job in this day and age. Mine has provided me the opportunity to live in San Francisco and do some interesting work in energy policy over the last three years.

But then there are the less obvious things for which I am thankful. Foremost among these is the fact that I’m living in America in this day and age.

Let me explain.

I’m not saying, by a long shot, that things can’t get better. They can, and my being thankful for the way things are does not imply that I will not work my hardest to improve them. But there are a lot of things that are better now than they ever have been in the past, and I think that’s a fact that is often forgotten.

The recent uproar over airport security measures is one example. I haven’t quite nailed down how I feel about this issue, because while I don’t like the increasing intrusiveness of the government, I’m not convinced of the fundamental “right” to fly by airplane. And every time I hear someone complain about the airline industry, I can only think of this video by Louis CK, in which he points out that “everything’s amazing, and nobody’s happy”, and gives some examples. One example:

You know, here’s the thing: people might say there’s delays on flights – delays? Really? New York to California in five hours. That used to take thirty years to do that. And a bunch of you would die on the way there and have a baby. You be a whole different group of people by the time you got there. Now you watch a movie and you take dump and you’re home.

Even if you change that last sentence to “Now someone fondles you, you watch a movie and you take a dump and you’re home”, I’d say it’s a pretty good deal. No cholera and no snake bites? Sign me up.

Even day-to-day things that don’t involve traveling at hundreds of miles an hour through the air can be amazing, because most of them represent years and years of improvement. My bike is hardly a piece of sophisticated technological wizardry compared to cell phones and computers, but it represents one specific culmination of thousands of years of technological development in the transportation sector. I didn’t have to do ANY of that work, but I have certainly benefitted from it.

I feel the same way about cell phones and computers. Think of the reaction you’d get if you took an iPhone back to the ’50s. It would blow their minds. Now think of the reaction you would get if you took it back to the mid-90s . . . it would probably blow their minds too. All built on the backs of thousands of years of human development and advancement.

So I guess, really, what I’m thankful for is the work of the people, throughout history, who have allowed me to live the life I live today. Sometimes it’s helpful just to look around, and think of the work and effort that went into the things around us. And not just the work required to make that specific instance of something, but all of the work that led up to it as well. For me, it imbues everything I see with a sense of awe at the string of events that had to take place for that object to be in front of me, doing whatever it is doing. And sometimes, when I need it, that sense of awe can be a reminder of the amazing things that the human race is capable of.

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3 Responses to giving thanks

  1. TJ Phantom says:

    this is really a great post. we can argue about the naked-picture-machines another time, but you’re right. life’s not so bad.

  2. Nicholas Kramer says:

    Don’t mean to be a debbie downer as usual – these are some nice sentiments, and I really like your family’s dinner tradition.

    However, even if we disregard the external impacts of all these advancements (ranging from environmental destruction, increased prevalence of diseases ranging from cancer to asthma, exploitation of the workers who make it all possible, and so on)…

    Do these things make you happy? Does “the life you live today” work well for you?

    • frouglas says:

      Does the life I live today work well for me? All things considered, it’s working all right. I don’t have to worry about starvation, I don’t have to worry about a lot of diseases, I can keep in touch with the people important to me around the globe with ease…

      Is it perfect? No. Could it be better? Yes.

      But these things do make me happy. I can’t control when I was born, or where I was born, or any number of other things that determine my overall happiness. But that need not prevent me from enjoying and recognizing (while still allowing for improvement in) those things that make me happy.

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