Thanksgiving, gratitude comes from feeling of abundance– that you have enough and some to spare. But American culture has always been about striving to improve ourselves, which too often devolves into a bottomless desire for more, more, more.
It makes me wonder if Thanksgiving is really about gratitude, or is it just another day off from the ‘Race to a Higher Tax Bracket’ that is our true national religion?
Did that sound harsh? Look, I like to hang out with family and eat pumpkin pie as much as the next gal, but our culture’s high holy day of gratitude is devoted to stuffing poultry and sweets into our gaping maws until we fall into a gaseous stupor in front of the TV. Is that really the best we can do?
There is always someone slaving in the kitchen all day to feed friends and family, which can be an act of love, I know. But as holidays go, I’ve always felt that there is a gaping hole at the center of Thanksgiving, right about where its heart should be.
The Turkey’s Heart
Everyone knows that European settlers and Native Americans kicked off the Thanksgiving tradition. The Europeans had every reason to celebrate simply being alive after bumbling into this strange land. The Native Americans already knew very well how to survive (having done so in North America for thousands of years), so they were most likely just being polite.
In Native American culture, anyone hoarding more things than he or she could use was seen as crazy. Many tribes had the tradition of Potlatch (from which our term potluck is derived). These elaborate ceremonies were about giving gifts, not receiving. Those who gave the most were the most respected. The turkey itself symbolizes the spiritual principle of Give Away: treating your neighbor as yourself, acting on behalf of the greater good.
Of course, our culture isn’t set up like the Native Americans’— it’s capitalist and proud, which means just about everything costs. Food, clothing, shelter, transportation, education (15-20 years) and medical. That’s hard enough for most folks to achieve. But even that’s not enough.
We are brainwashed to think we must get the Shiny Stuff (for ourselves or our families): more houses, cars, trips, clothes, and toys of every kind, or else we’re not doing a good job of providing. And what happens to creativity, joy and being thankful for what you have, then? It gets shoved into the occasional holiday, and our ever-dwindling free time when we can pursue our hobbies, those quiet dreams we mean to get around to honoring, eventually. Maybe when we retire…
Creativity Born of Abundance vs. Creativity Born of Need
I wonder: Are we more creative when we feel that we have enough food, enough love, enough joy and self-respect? Or when we feel the need to make up for a lack?
I know that lack can be a great motivator. Most of our useful inventions can be attributed to need. I need to get there faster… hence the car. I need to clean this house, and thank god someone invented vacuums and washing machines.
But… what does creativity that grows out of abundance look like? I imagine it looks like all the things we deem less than useful: novels, paintings, sculptures, symphonies. I don’t doubt that sometimes high art is created out of fear, but there are much easier ways to get yourself a Porsche.
Just do this – and I will too. Imagine you have everything you could ever need right now: all the knowledge, all the resources. What would you create?
In the end, you may not be able to implement your wildest dreams. But then again, you might. Even just imagining them is important.
What, you think those creations and inventions sprouting in your head don’t serve a purpose?
Stick around, Friend. Keep up the good work. Keep refusing to buy the glitter-dipped turds they’re telling you will feed your soul. Keep your eyes, heart and mind open. Things are getting interesting.
Happy Thanksgiving, Ya’ll.
If you’re enjoying your holiday, give thanks for all that you have and all that you are. Then see if you can give thanks again tomorrow, mustering as much gratitude as you did today. And then the next day, and the one after that, until the next Thanksgiving rolls around.
Just try it and see how you feel (hint: deep, heart-twanging gratitude is extremely close to joy, and a potent natural high). It’s not always easy, but it’s a good exercise. You’ll learn more about what inspires you, and what you’d best let pass by.
And if you honestly don’t feel all that grateful for your life right now? Well, maybe it’s time to get creative and make a change.