How to Be Thankful

Food for Thought

We all know we should be thankful for lots of things we take for granted, like our health, food, clean water, freedom, etc.. We understand it conceptually but don’t feel it, because, as Aldous Huxley said, “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”

I heard about this boy visiting the Niagara Falls, who grew up in a country where he had to travel many miles to get water. He kept watching it for hours, thinking that it would eventually run out of water. The fact that he doesn’t take clean water for granted but we New Yorkers do isn’t a difference that comes from how we think or what we are taught. Unless we experience the lack, we cannot appreciate the existence of it. No amount of thinking, or preaching, can change how we feel.

The experience of the lack doesn’t just make us appreciate the possession of it; it also allows us to see the true nature of it. Until we know what it’s like to lack it, we do not fully understand what it is that we have. This is partly why, contrary to popular belief, we do not know ourselves the best; because we do not understand what we have that we’ve never lacked.

This is also why making mistakes is the best way to learn. Someone who failed to achieve a goal understands the nature of it better than someone who succeeded the first time. Although we love listening to successful people, many of them do not actually know why they succeeded.

When I cook, I sometimes deliberately disobey the instruction in a recipe just so that I can see what happens. It’s only through this process that I can understand why it’s telling me to do it in a specific way. Seeing someone make the same mistake in a video is helpful, but somehow it’s not the same. There is a physical component to understanding.

To be thankful, or to have an appreciation for something is not a matter of knowledge or cognition. We have to actively engage in the lack or failure of it. For that, our goal must be the experience itself, not the end goal like success or possession. From this perspective, perhaps the problem is not our “infinite capacity,” but our privileging of the goal over the experience.