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When I went off to college in 2007, I experienced the same sense of liberating happiness that a lot of freshmen get. A freshness of place, a new kind of freedom.

But I also caught another common revelation: that I had taken so many things for granted.

I didn’t know to be thankful for home until I moved out. Didn’t appreciate the amazing gift of a good family until I was apart from it and on my own. Never gave proper thanks for my mom’s mashed potatoes until I tried to make some of my own.

This is often the way it goes. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. The line seems so axiomatically true as to be an intrinsic part of the human condition.

At least in America, where we have so much to be grateful for, we don’t recognize how much gratitude is due. Sure, in an academic sense we know we’re well off. We know statistics and mantras about quality of life, income, material possessions and opportunity. We know that many of us live with unique privilege.

But while such blessings should breed gratitude, they so often breed entitlement. (Or, maybe just as bad, oblivious passivity.)

It’s too bad that we have to lose something — or, just as often, see someone else who’s lost it — to even notice that the thing we thought was ours was only a gift, only on loan, only temporary.

I didn’t appreciate my sight until I saw someone who was blind.

Rarely thanked God for my ability to read and write until I met a boy who couldn’t do either.

Sometimes it takes walking into a hospital or a prison to realize that your health and freedom were never guaranteed.

We should be more thankful for the things we have. I know I should be.

And not just material things — shelter, clothes, food, oxygen, technology — but more intangible, hard-to-measure things, too: an ability to reason, to feel emotion, to relate, to share, to give and receive, to think and believe, to speak or not speak.

And beyond being grateful for all good things — an ability that is itself a blessing, but one we seldom think on — we can even be grateful in the tough times. Because of what they teach us. What they make us. Where they lead us. Because God considered us worthy and able to face trials.

This is getting awfully close to preaching, so I’ll be done. Except to say thanks for everything, and to quote the Buddha:

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us be thankful.

And a Christian addendum: And if we died, we are looking God in the face, so let us be thankful.

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