Thanksgiving is my favourite yearly celebration, though it’s not on the calendar here in Italy. And while I believe many countries, peoples and individuals would greatly benefit from taking a pause and celebrating it, I also wonder why we actually need a special day to remind so many people to give thanks for … all they’ve got?
You’re literate enough to read this, in what could even be your second language, and you presumably have your own computer, internet connection and probably your own blog.
So if you’re reading this, out of a world population of some 7.5 billion going on 9 billion, chances are you’re in the 10% who live in places that offer their populations sound enough social services and infrastructures, and where a majority of people – if not all – have a roof of some kind over their heads, protection from the extremes of temperature and climate, and they also eat a couple of meals a day.
Now, Europeans have historically enjoyed a higher economic status than other peoples, and felt some measure of superiority to these others – as evidenced by their crossing oceans and continents, taking over resources and imposing their own cultures in all corners of the globe.
But at the same time, on their own turf, they’re often in complaining mode, and disregard just how fortunate they are in the larger scheme of things. They often view some American values as childish and naïve. In Italy the term “un’ americanata” is their condescendent way of describing many US habits or products. To them, Thanksgiving is a typical American oddity. To be fair, this particular one is looked upon more benevolently, only because it involves eating a large, carefully-cooked meal with the whole family sitting around the table, which is a rare issue they can all agree is a good thing.
But the deeper meaning of giving thanks in a general, natural and non-religious way is harder for them to grasp. Gratitude separate from religious tenets is an alien idea – if no rules dictate “you must be grateful”, if you’re not going to fry in hell, why bother? I always have a hard time explaining that Americans of all religious denominations and non-denominations, a grab-bag of multi-ethnicities celebrate turkey day in many melting pot variations. Indeed, though the turkey’s still central, some US purists are actually afraid the original Puritan-inspired meal complete with pumpkin pie is in danger: too many ethnic additions and modified recipes sprouting up year after year!
If not a religious holiday, what then? Atheists might feel uncomfortable if I use the label “spiritual” for Thanksgiving and gratitude, so I’ll just downsize to a simple “ethics” issue, which doesn’t change the substance.
Reasons for gratitude are overwhelming.
How about demographics? As stated, we are an extraordinarily small and privileged percentage of humanity.
How about Nature? The beauty of it is so overwhelming, without even having to prove it with the wealth of superb documentaries on micro and macro Nature online and on TV.
How about our technology-created comforts? our arts and culture?
How about the very fact of life itself, of being alive, of health for example?
I read the first of many Thanksgiving-related articles in an online NYT op-ed *, which touted gratitude and explained that generating it on all levels of one’s life was a good idea. The author referred to the increasing number of controlled psychological tests that indicate positive results derived from working on gratitude. The results create a statistically relevant blip in increased over-all happiness.
I was surprised to see the first immediate comments to the editorial were cynical comments. Of the “how can you feel gratitude when wars and destruction are rampant, social inequities ubiquitous etc.?”. Many of these negative reactions did seem to be knee-jerk because of who the messenger was – presumably different political flavour- and not reactions to the actual message. Which puts the problem of refusing to communicate with and listen to people only because of preconceived biases. As a friend pointed out, a portion of American public opinion led on by the media seem to be going down the same road as their European counterparts. So optimism and being upbeat are getting more and more bad press. Sad.
Today, three days later, I’m relieved to see that the positive comments followed… at a slower pace. Maybe it took more time to get up the courage to publicly applaud the “giving thanks” part of Thanksgiving, out of a fear of being cheesy? or being guilty of an “americanata”?
Despite problems, even serious ones, so many things are probably working in all our lives (above statistics). Let’s start there. The gratitude feeling will produce mental and physical health benefits. Once the positive attitude has us all properly self- energized, how about going out and trying to fix whatever it is that could have kept us from feeling grateful in the first place?
Is that so crazy? too pie in the sky?
Enjoy the turkey anyway … Happy Thanksgiving!
*http://www.nytimes.com Nov.21 2015 “Choose to be grateful. It will make you happier” Arthur C. Brooks