Choose To Be Grateful

Last year, a Harris Polls survey was conducted to determine those things for which Americans are most grateful. Responses were as follows:

  1. Health of family                                                            85%
  2. Family relationships                                                    84%
  3. Technology making it easy to stay in touch               76%
  4. Accessibility of good technology                               68%
  5. Personal economic situation                                      62%
  6. Work situation                                                              60%
  7. Safe to walk the streets                                              53%
  8. The way people treat each other                               35%
  9. The economic situation in the U.S.                            17%

I think that’s a pretty good list. It bolsters my confidence in people. When the culture puts family first, that means heart and hearth are still a central priority, which speaks well for the ideals in a society. Even the emphasis on technology notes its advantage in allowing us to stay in touch (another empathetic human factor).

What I find interesting, though, is that we actually can control many of the items on the list. The survey suggests that many of these factors are out of our control. For example, we are thankful there is good weather for a ball game. Or maybe we are thankful that the whole family shows up at a picnic and there is enough food to feed everyone. In this spirit, there is a notion that we need good luck or the grace of a higher power to arrive at a place where all is well. That point of view is contradicted by reality.

Gaining Ground On Gluttony

Let’s look at the first response—health of family. Surely we cannot control disease or car accidents or bad fortune, but are we taking good care of ourselves physically? Are we maintaining the health of our family or just hoping to dodge any bullets that come our way? To some degree, this response can be controlled. The diet, exercise, and no-smoking mantra that bombards us on radio and television 24 hours a day drives this one home. If 85 percent of all people interviewed value the health of their family, the record obesity numbers in the United States would not be so inflated (no pun intended). Further, our food choices are keeping the fast food joints hopping with our business. I looked at the caloric intake of breakfast meals available from the top-five fast-food drive-through restaurants. In every case, the calories consumed in the majority of breakfast “meals” (a sandwich, a potato side order, and drink) were more than half of the daily requirement, and in many cases more like 2/3, leaving the individual with a caloric balance of fewer than 500 for the rest of the day. Should we be thankful for low cholesterol, or should we be thankful for the wisdom in order to eat right and avoid high cholesterol?

Don’t Fight To The Death

The next clear priority from the list discusses family relationships. Again, I think this is another area over which people can exercise some control. If this is such a high priority for many people, why do we hear of broken families, parents and children who haven’t spoken for years; people holding grudges for years but who can hardly remember the reason for the conflict? Can we not be the “bigger person” and extend a hand of understanding in order to move on and forget the mistakes of the past? I have learned, as I age, that one of the stumbling blocks to achieving peace between arguing parties is that each combatant should be allowed to walk away from the fight with something—even a minor gain. A total loss makes coming to an agreement harder. There is no need to eviscerate the other person to get the point across or “win.” Have you ever noticed that when you win an argument, immediately afterwards you feel some regret that the other person lost? For example—a childhood flashback—you and your little brother are fighting over who gets the bigger piece of cake. Mom walks in and hands you the bigger piece, explaining it’s simply your turn to have the better end of the deal. You look at your frowning brother and your victory is immediately extinguished by his disappointment. So fast forward to today, and you are settling an argument between two staff members. There’s a big difference between “Danny, John is right on this, and you are wrong” compared to “Danny, your idea has merit, and maybe we can use that in the future, but for this problem I like John’s angle.” A win/partial win is always easier to swallow—for everyone. Now that staff member who “lost” remains engaged in the process. Perhaps if those types of compromises were tried in our familial relationships, there would be fewer long-term, Hatfield-and-McCoy-type disagreements.

Try To Understand

In perusing the rest of the list, the same point can be made again and again. Many of those responses are derived from choices we have made and continue to make. It isn’t luck or fate that hands us those results. It is wisdom, understanding, experience, and a willingness to cope that brings about the real results. And for those gifts, we should always be thankful.

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a BS in Business from Bowling Green State University and an MBA from Baldwin Wallace University and has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at