Even though Christmas has become increasingly associated with commercialism and receiving gifts, it’s the “giving” and “thanking” that bring the true meaning of Christmas into our lives.

Receiving gifts was easy and gratifying when we were innocent children who had not yet been exposed to more mature purposes in life.  For many of us, as we age we find giving more satisfying than receiving.  

Most of us want to feel useful to others as our purpose in life.  I know when I am not useful in some way I begin to feel empty.  
I dislike feeling I owe somebody something and I appreciate having an opportunity to give or at least to reciprocate rather than only to receive.    

This time of year is about giving and being thankful, regardless of whether we consider ourselves as Christians, adhere to other belief systems or have no theological beliefs.  It’s a time of reflection and analysis of our purposes, our hopes and whom we love.  

Let’s take a look at ourselves.  What are you thankful for, regardless of whether the credit belongs to you or others?  
What makes you feel useful?  Make a list of things you are thankful for and areas of your life you want to contemplate further because you sense they need improvement.

My list. I am thankful to be upright, as in vertical, rather than horizontal.  The other meaning of upright is much harder for me to achieve.

I am thankful for living in the countryside.  I don’t survive as well in urban environments.  

I had to live in the city for six years while completing my graduate education at the University of Utah.  I sought opportunities to undertake camping, fishing, and hiking in the surrounding mountains whenever possible.  

I was glad after meeting Marilyn, my wife, to discover that she felt the same way.

Being able to live in the country was at the top of our list of places when it came time to search for my first full-time professional job after finishing graduate school.  When the University of Virginia offered me a professorship, I quickly accepted the offer.  

We built our first home on land formerly owned by Meriwether Lewis and his family near the hamlet of Ivy, west of Charlottesville, and did as much of the work as time allowed to construct our house.  We had an Albemarle pippin tree, the tart and tasty apple that was exempted from import tax by Queen Victoria of England because the British liked it so much.
When we left Virginia it was to live on our western Iowa farm where Marilyn and I still reside and where our children grew up.  I am thankful Marilyn and I both could undertake helping professions, she as a professor of behavioral health nursing and me as a psychologist and agriculturalist.  

I am grateful for our farm, with its ample habitat for wildlife, rich loess soil and places to do my thinking.  It’s possible to produce enough vegetables for three families on four raised-bed gardens totaling about a thousand square feet.

I am thankful for having an understanding wife, hard-working and trustworthy children and their spouses, and several robust grandchildren.  

I am also thankful for having friends on whose support I have depended during tough times and who tell me what I need to hear rather than what I might like to hear.

I am thankful to you who read and appreciate my articles, for you make me feel useful when you tell me by email, letter or phone that you have learned something or to request help with problems.

These are just a few of the blessings in my life for which I am grateful.

Tell me what you are thankful for.  I would like to incorporate your thoughts into future columns so we all might learn what gives you meaning.

Recently one farm man told me he is grateful whenever plants emerge from the seeds he has planted.  It’s a miracle he never tires of each spring, he proclaimed.

A veteran of the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts told me he is thankful every day for being alive and living in a country where he is free to believe and say what he wants.  He lost a leg in the latter war but not his humble and positive outlook.

When you send me your thoughts, it works best if you use my website (www.agbehavioralhealth.com) to send emails.

May you and those you love have a happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Feliz Navidad or whatever term you use to express your wishes at this reflective time of the year.

Michael Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa clinical psychologist (and fly-fisherman) who lives on the farm he shares with his wife.  Contact him at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.