What to Be Thankful For? Start With Your Life

Thanksgiving Day, 2011. This holiday, like every holiday, everyone should take a few minutes to reflect on and appreciate what the day stands for.

The first thing that comes to my mind is life. Be thankful that you were born. Especially considering that you had an infinitely remote chance of ever being conceived.

As pointed out here, it’s an amazing feat to be conceived. But once you get that far, you still had to run quite a gauntlet in order to be delivered nine months later. Thirty to fifty percent of embryos are lost early on – often without the mother’s knowledge that she even was briefly pregnant. Of the known pregnancies, some 10 to 20 percent of humans in the womb die due to miscarriage. Of the humans who manage to get past that hurdle, in the United States 1 out of 5 of them are intentionally killed; in Russia more than half of them are. (Can you imagine beating infinite odds to make it so far – so close to being able to experience the world outside of the womb – and then someone cutting short your life?)

So, adding up the above numbers, once you beat the infinitely remote odds of ever being conceived, there was still a 60 to 90 percent chance that you’d die within the next nine months. (Pre-Roe v. Wade you had a 40 to 70 percent chance of dying.)

But in America and other developed countries, once you make it to the delivery room, you’re practically home free. (Of course not everyone is, but statistically, your chances are pretty good.) Thanks to the hard work, intelligence, creativity, and dedication of millions of Americans alive now and who came before us – who helped set up and run a pretty awesome society compared with the rest of the world and compared with the past (especially pre-20th century), your chances of living a full lifespan are pretty high.

Not only that, but there’s a very good chance that you’re in the top 1 percent of the world, income-wise. Even if you’re at the official poverty line in America – which isn’t poverty compared with most other countries and compared with past times (poverty is a relative term) – you’re still in the top 15 percent of the world.

Now that you’re alive and living pretty comfortably – and aware enough to realize how exceedingly low  your chances were of ever being born – savor the moment. To borrow from something I wrote previously,

Feast your eyes on the sky, the grass, the trees, the animals, the people. Listen to the sounds of nature. Feel the breeze on your skin. Or the warmth of the sun. Do it knowing that you were so extremely close to never experiencing any of it at all.

The mundane is the extraordinary – like waking up in the morning, eating breakfast, looking out your window, or driving down your street.  You had an extremely close brush with never existing at all, so you should have a strong thankfulness for life – on this Thanksgiving Day and every day – and live your life with vigor.

Of course, you should be thankful for our tiny corner (or spec on a spec on a spec) of the universe, where our sun got formed, and then our planet got formed, which just happened to be the right size and the right distance from the sun in order to support life. And once that was in place, you should be thankful for everything else that happened astronomically and geologically and biologically in order for humans to get started. (Read the book What if the Moon Didn’t Exist? for examples.) Even thank the asteroid that is said to have wiped out (or contributed to wiping out) the dinosaurs; that paved the way for the rise of the mammals, and then you.

So in considering what to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, there are an innumerable number of things, and I’m sure you have your own list. But Life is one thing that can go at the top of that list.

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