Gratitude doesn’t always come easy, even on a day especially designated for the task.

Scientists say the human brain is hard-wired to see the storm cloud, not the rainbow — a default setting that helped long-ago relatives be on the lookout for a hungry lion or other mortal danger.

But this negativity bias can be exhausting. It’s important to take a breather sometimes and deliberately focus on what’s going right.

Thanksgiving, like the United States, is more nuanced than a coloring-book outline of a smiling Pilgrim and Wampanoag sharing a neighborly meal. It is a day of contradictions.

It is a celebration of bounty and plenty, with tables and sideboards groaning under the weight of holiday feasts — even as too many people struggle to provide the basics for their families.

It’s a day for friends and loved ones to gather, a celebration of togetherness — even as our communities experience epidemic levels of loneliness, particularly among older Americans. (And as letters to advice columnists repeatedly attest around the holidays — family time isn’t always all that great.)


It is a celebration of unity that is not universally celebrated, as hundreds will gather instead for events like the National Day of Mourning at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Indigenous Peoples Day Sunrise Gathering to remember that European settlement of the American continent came at a high cost to indigenous populations.

It is all of this at once — a day bursting with the diverse and sometimes discordant elements of a complex and imperfect nation. That is, in itself, something for which to be thankful.

The world doesn’t have to be perfect to be worthy of gratitude any more than gratitude can excuse complacency. This country’s flaws and shortcomings are a call to action, not to retreat.

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Its contradictions and tensions help clarify our aspirations. They inspire us to do better. Be thankful for this work in progress.

Relish every morsel of this perfectly flawed and bounteous day.