Some atheists struggle with certain things when they leave their faith. How do we cope with death? How do we adjust to not having the answers (even if the ones we had before were wrong)? How do I figure out morality?
Of course, there are those of us who don't really have a problem with any of these (personally, the thing that I suffered the most from losing, at first, by leaving behind my faith, was the concept of an afterlife). One that seems to plague many atheists is, who to be grateful to?
It often floats to the surface around Thanksgiving, when many of us (who are still on good terms with their religious families) end up wondering, if they're thanking someone, don't I have someone to be grateful to, too?
The simple answer is: yes. You absolutely do. It's simply not a god.
Generations ago, your ancestors figured out farming. They figured out how to grow crops. How to pick the crops that best survived before there were pesticides. How to irrigate their crops so they could grow in otherwise inhospitable conditions. How to make sure their fields were fertile enough to grow crops consistently. They figured out how to keep and raise livestock. Agriculture has changed dramatically since then, but many of these basic principles still apply and have provided the basis for the systems and methods we use today. Be thankful for, and to, them.
Add some modern engineering, and we have a system that went from the majority of the population working to feed itself to an extremely small minority of it feeding the vast majority. Yet another reason to be thankful - you're not required to be a farmer, hunter, or forager, in order to survive. Be thankful for that, and be thankful for the few who still do.
Be thankful to the truck manufacturers and drivers who make it possible take those products from the fields to wholesalers, to supermarkets. Be thankful for the employees who stock the shelves, check out your purchases, put things in bags, and keep your experience shopping as simple as walking in, finding what you want, paying for it, and going home.
Be thankful for your employer, who finds enough value in what you do to pay you for it. Or, be thankful for the people who pay their taxes and provide you with the social welfare that keeps you fed.
I think you get where I'm going - there are thousands of people only a few steps away from you who have done something that helps you. That they are paid to do those things doesn't diminish the work they've done, or its effect on you. What matters is that those effects, and those people, are real, and can appreciate being thanked - which makes giving thanks all the more important and meaningful. When you give thanks to a god, you subvert and ignore all of those steps in between. Instead, you just assume some cosmic being was looking out for you in the same way he looks out for small birds (fun fact: birds have lots of offspring - many of which don't survive. That cosmic being isn't very good at looking out for them).
And if you're thinking about this on Thanksgiving day, you should remember that the closest branches of the tree of people to thank are probably sitting right there at the table with you - the ones who are hosting you, who prepared the food, and wanted to spend time with you.
Be sure to thank them, too.
I apologize in advance for the headline. As my introduction points out, many new atheists have difficulty in acclimating to a life without faith. The wording of the headline is not meant to mock this difficulty.