Thanksgiving Reflections

In this Thankgsiving week, I’m taking some time to reflect on the things I’m grateful for.

I am grateful for my family. My wife Elissa is awesome. She is smart, beautiful, creative, funny, makes amazing food, and writes great stories. She is also an incredible mother for our kids, nurturing them along, teaching them, and challenging them to be better.

I’m also grateful for my kids. Dan, Will, and Marie are pretty much exactly what I hoped for in kids. They’re adorable and precocious, they love us and each other, and they are making steady progress towards becoming civilized members of society.

I’m grateful for my parents and siblings (both sets!) and for my extended family: my grandparents, aunts, uncles, my 32 first cousins, and so on.

I’m grateful for the gospel. I’m thankful that Christ lived and died for me, and that thanks to him I can repent and receive the gift of eternal life. I’m grateful to have an understanding of God’s plan for me, and to know that I can be with my family forever by adhering to it. I’m thankful for the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and other revelation that teaches me of Christ. I’m thankful for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which has made a fundamental difference in my life, and its President, Russel M. Nelson, who inspired this post with his recent message on gratitude.

On the meta-level, I’m grateful for an understanding of gratitude. The hedonic treadmill is real: the default human reaction to any good thing includes gaining, almost instantly, a corresponding sense of entitlement. (I have a 5 year old – I am not just guessing here.) Happiness has a lot to do with the difference between reality and expectations. Most people are more interested in changing their stubborn reality than changing their stubborn expectations, but expectations are fundamentally internal, under the individual’s control, and reality is not. The direct appeal to “fix your attitude, stupid” is what makes Stoic philosophy great, but is hard to mentally adopt or sustain. “Be grateful” is easier on the ears and mind, provides a positive program, and gets you to a similar place.

I’m grateful for my job. Valero is an amazing company to work for. All of my supervisors have been good, and my assignments have mattered to the company and the world at large. It feels good to personally shave a femto-penny off global diesel prices, or otherwise help people get the fuels they need. The company has taken care of us financially, supplied my family with excellent medical care, supported me in getting an MBA, and helped me out after Hurricane Harvey. Through it all, the company has made it possible for me to have reasonable overall work-life balance.

I’m grateful to live in the United States. It’s not a perfect country, but there’s nowhere I’d rather belong. I can live my religion. I am largely free to live my life. The taxes are bearable, administered in a reasonably even-handed way, and not completely wasted. The National and State Park system has a lot to recommend it. NASA does some cool stuff. Operation Warp Speed is a good thing. Constitutional checks and balances have warded off disaster pretty effectively so far, and will likely continue to do so. I’m grateful for those who have sacrificed to establish and defend the country.

I’m grateful for instant gratification consumer products. It is super easy and cheap to get useful stuff! I’m not trying to go all “Black Friday” and completely suffuse Thanksgiving week with the crass contemplation of material stuff. But at the same time, the availability of high-quality and inexpensive food, clothing, household goods, tools, books, transportation, etc. etc. is a Good Thing. Capitalism is satisfying all of my needs, and most of my wants.

I’m grateful for books. There are an incredible number of great books out there to read, and most of them are cheap or free! For a small percentage of my income I can read pretty much everything I want to. I am also grateful for Project Gutenberg and the volunteers of the Mormon Texts Project for making a ton of great books free. I’m grateful for technology that makes that (and this post, and even a few other things) possible.

I’m grateful for nature. There are sure a lot of great places to walk, hike, camp, swim, and so on. The variety of terrain, landforms, rocks, plants, and animals in the world is amazing. It’s amazing how much we know about all of it, and how much we can do with it (supercomputers made of sand!). Mountains are amazing. The stars are amazing.

And I’m thankful for you, internet person. Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving!

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