This morning, I dropped off my wife at the airport so she could fly off to see another guy. Again.

This is like, the third time this year she’s left me for the same dude. Last time, I had to drive all the way to Arizona to drag her back home.

For some reason, I’m grateful. Not just thankful. Grateful.

Whoa. Sounds like I’m happy to get rid of her. I’m not.

She’s flying out to Carmel, California, to hang out with our baby grandson Ben. Ben’s parents have a big event on Saturday, so Susie gets to hang out with Ben all day while visiting one of the destinations on her bucket list. She’s been excited for weeks and bouncing off the danged walls.

Why the heck am I feeling grateful about my wife leaving me (again)?

Lots of reasons. No, I’m not glad she’s gone. I don’t exactly do well without her. I can take care of myself (for the most part) just fine. I’m just a whole lot happier when she’s around.

I’m grateful because our kids love her enough to spoil her in such a big way. She deserves it. This trip is gonna make her so, so happy, and I’ll take all the happy I can get when it comes to her and the rest of our crew.

I could have said I’m “thankful” since Thanksgiving Day was yesterday, but I’ve misused the word too many times. Most of those times, I was simply reciting something instead of actually feeling it. I still remember being 7 years old and living in a home with strangers. That Thanksgiving, the adults supervising us wanted us boys to go around the table and say something about why we were thankful.

When it came my turn, I just stared. Or probably glared. I was mad at the world and thankful for nothing. After an uncomfortable silence, they skipped me and went on to the next kid, who mumbled something about a toy he’d gotten for his birthday. I wanted to smack him with it.

I spent a lot of years trying to find reasons to feel thankful. It always seemed when I was at my worst, something like Thanksgiving would roll around demanding I express appreciation for whatever. I mostly glared. I wasn’t smart enough to look a little deeper. I was too hung up on the wrong stuff.

Now (and yes, thankfully), I’m at a place in my life where I understand there’s a difference between feeling thankful and feeling truly grateful. One definition of “thankful” describes the word as a reaction to a benefit received. You know, like when someone cooks a massive meal on Thanksgiving and all I gotta do is show up and eat it.

The word “grateful” goes a little deeper. In her article “The Difference Between Gratitude and Thankfulness” author Susan Rhoads describes the contrast beautifully, pointing out how it’s “a state of being, where you feel a sense of appreciation that comes from deep within. You are at peace with the world, and appreciate that state of affairs deep within.”

Danged straight, ma’am. I can say “thanks,” but I feel more grateful. I get the difference now. Finally. Even stranger, I’ve learned to feel grateful for the bad times past or present. They’re exactly why I’m so appreciative of every little good thing I experience. I know now how to spend less time mourning anyone or anything I’ve lost and more time on looking at what I still have.

Yes, I’m thankful for plenty of reasons, but saying so isn’t enough — especially if I’m only gonna say it on a specific holiday. I’ve had to work hard to focus more on a real sense of gratitude — not for what someone does for me, but for everything I have. Took years to ditch my angry, 7-year-old attitude and exchange it for something resembling gratitude.

I feel thankful for having a job, but I’m more grateful about doing something I love and making a good living doing it. I can be thankful for the paycheck, but I’m even more grateful for all the people around me every time I go to work. It’s an everyday feeling, and not a “once-per-month” experience. I wake up happy, go to bed happy and stay happy in all the hours in between. It hasn’t always been so. I haven’t forgotten.

I’m thankful for my home — my very first real home, and I didn’t get it until a mere eight years ago — but I’m forever grateful for what makes it what it is. My sweet wife, for one. Without her, this place is an empty stack of wood and bricks. Without our entire family, this place would be nothing more than an old man’s cave. Our kids and grandkids might still show up, but probably just to feed the grouchy old bear living there.

Without all those reasons, my backyard — my sanctuary — would be a hiding place instead of the place I sit and express my eternal gratitude every single morning and evening. My lady finally figured out I’m not completely crazy when she hears me outside talking to myself. She knows I’m running down my list of blessings. She doesn’t call for help near as much any more.

So yes, I’m happy my wife left me for another guy again. I’m happy because she’s happy, and our kids and grand-brats are happy. I like that even more than I like corn bread dressing.

This day after Thanksgiving, I promise I’ll still be thankful.

But I know I can do better. I can remind myself how if I really want to show appreciation for what I have and what I do, I need to find ways to express those feelings every day, and not only when someone is feeding me.

The day after Thanksgiving. Yes, I’m full, and I’m not talking about food.

I’ve got me a whole plate full of grateful.

Gary Stallard is a regular contributor to the Opinion page of The Lufkin Daily News. His email address is garylstallard@yahoo.com.