Political turmoil in Washington. Economic chaos in Europe. Unemployment everywhere.

We look at the world around us and we’re tempted to wonder: Thanksgiving? Thanks for what?

People are discouraged, which is understandable. People are angry, which is regrettable but also understandable.

And yet, as we observe Thanksgiving Day in this tumultuous year of 2011, there is much to be thankful for; there are reasons to be grateful and hopeful.

The United States, for all its economic challenges, cultural chasms and political malfunctions, is still the greatest nation on Earth. Our country remains the envy of others, even those who resent us for our accomplishments and hate us for our relentless commitment to a free and open society.

America has known tougher times than these. On history’s misery scale, for example, our stubborn unemployment rate and economic stagnancy pale in comparison to the darkest days of the Great Depression.

Ironically, perhaps, some of today’s problems – the out-of-control federal budget deficits, the crushing national debt, the divisive political bickering – are linked to government programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that were devised in the hope of avoiding the deprivation that engulfed us in the 1930s. Now these programs, instituted to protect us against economic instability, are seen as contributors to economic instability.

With everyone’s financial security at risk, we now face the prospect of shrinking the social safety net that was woven during better times.

Such times – economic booms that enlivened previous decades – may have left us unprepared for an extended period of hardship. Perhaps we were spoiled by unbridled expansion of our economy. Perhaps we had come to believe that our paychecks would always increase, that our savings would always grow, that jobs would always be plentiful and secure.

We see now that security is elusive. But our political/economic system has demonstrated its resilience time and time again. Our determination and optimism, which have seen us through every crisis of the past, will see us through once more.

And today we can give thanks for what we know will be a brighter future.