I want to be thankful on Thanksgiving; I really do. It is just that the build up is so big, the expectations so high, the demand for joy, and gratitude so relentless. We have designed the holiday as essentially antithetical. Gratitude is characterized by that moment when you taste the beauty of an experience you might have accidentally let slip by. Or by the experience of grandeur, internally or externally, when less was expected. There is little chance of that on Thanksgiving or on most major holidays.
We build them up with so much expectation, that no matter how huge we make the event, most people are left with some disappointment. Hence, Black Friday Shopping; where the gluttonous paradigm for Thanksgiving eating gets transferred to the realm of money and shopping. Americans try to fill whatever “hungers” where left unsatisfied by their family gatherings with a purchasing frenzy.
I have nothing against Black Friday, or Thanksgiving, or even gluttony. It is greed I find so debilitating. Greed eats away at all that is good. And greed breeds greed.
My mom used to take my sister and I shopping on Black Friday. She was an incredibly generous woman and loved buying stuff for us. On the drive to the mall I would be overcome with a ravenous appetite. My mom didn’t have a pre-set time or money limit, or at least not one she shared with us. I think it was some combination of our needs and enthusiasm for an item, or her mood, tiredness, or disposition towards the item. No matter what, we would each leave with a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff, and maybe even double that. If there had been a predetermined amount that I had control over, maybe I could have made thoughtful decisions in a calm way. But instead, for me, it was a supermarket dash. I wanted something in every store we went into in case her enthusiasm for shopping wore out. But I was also afraid to get anything for fear that something I wanted more would surface later whether spending was done. My wants were endless.
Now certainly the design of my families shopping spree was part of the problem. But the malls were filled with folks, who a day after we celebrate our gratitude for all that we have, go out to buy more. I think they are linked. I think our American society is not designed for gratitude, and certainly thanksgiving isn’t.
Some families have traditions of serving food at soup kitchens. I suspect that engenders gratitude. Perhaps shopping on Black Friday to exclusively buy donation gifts for toys for tots. It might awaken envy, but then that could be fodder for conversations about greed instead of efforts to satiate it.
The video below came across my Facebook feed the other day, of a kid who clearly had anticipation and hope, but without the assumption his desire would be sated. It made me sad that I will never be able to engender that kind of gratitude in my child, who has so much, and can assume he will have even more. But it certainly gave me pause, and something to aspire to.
Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additionally the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
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