Imagine expressing your love, appreciation, and commitment to your significant other on Valentine’s Day, only to log onto Match.com the following day to meet a new love interest.
Makes no sense, right? Welcome to the strangest 48 hours in American culture: Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
It’s worth asking how we took the one day of the year in which most people stop and reflect on their thankfulness for the things they have, and then followed it up with a bonanza of greed and trampling injuries. You’re welcome to disagree with this point, but you’ll also have to ignore the hundreds, if not thousands, of news stories showing customers fighting each other for the latest greatest neti pot.
Just as New Year’s Day is the annual genesis of your second chance for fitness, behaviors, and bizarro you, Thanksgiving can be a catalyst for perspective. Think about it: You’re sitting around your Thanksgiving feast, with people who you probably disagree with politically, but still love, and you’re verbalizing your gratitude for the realities of your life.
That’s powerful stuff. And you owe it to yourself to live a life of gratitude on a regular basis.
We never stop and smell the roses. How can we? Our inboxes are inundated with reminders that there’s so much more out there we don’t have. Not to mention, we constantly consume ad copy with phrases such as “you deserve” and “one day only.”
Round about the mid-1980s, a new tradition was hatched across the United States: shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. There’d been a version of Black Friday since the 1950s, but it really didn’t become a version of what it is today until the ’80s. And it took another 20 years or so to become the version we know now — an all-you-can-eat buffet of consumerism and self-gifting.
Stores can lace their ads with all the Nat King Cole music in the world to whet your holiday gifting appetite, but if they took a second to listen to a single holiday lyric, they wouldn’t open at 5 a.m., or Thanksgiving night, or Thanksgiving day. I get it, it’s the biggest shopping day of the year and businesses need to get it, while the gettin’ is good. But what’s the cost of this? People weren’t getting into slap fights over Tickle Me Elmo in 1985
Good times gone, and you missed them; What’s gone wrong in your system?
— Adam Horovitz, poet
Black Friday is fascinating, because it has nothing to do with needs.
You aren’t in the passenger seat of this cultural car crash in less you choose to be. “That’s just the way it is,” I often hear. I know that’s the way it is, because we did this. When you’re a passenger, and not the driver, this is what happens. You excuse away your ownership of where we go as a culture.
Don’t get it twisted. I’m not suggesting you don’t go shopping. In fact, I want you to go shopping. I want your family to be there with you, and I want you to enjoy the start of the holiday season. But I want you to carry something with you other than the extra piece of pie you probably shouldn’t have eaten. I want you to take your gratitude with you.
Maybe you’re a superhuman and I’m a single cell amoeba, but I can’t get my cell around the idea of gratitude and a 5 a.m. department store stampede coexisting on Black Friday. If you’re somehow able to understand this juxtaposition, feel free to explain it to me.
Our gifts have become disconnected from the manifestation of thoughtfulness they were meant to be. No one ever used to give each other cash. Gift cards were rare acquisitions, but now they’re the norm. There’s no doubt they’re practical, but are they thoughtful? “That way, Billy can pick out whatever he likes.” I think we’re missing the point here.
This year, resolve to keep the gratitude alive and the gift giving meaningful.
Attempting to change will require different actions for different people. For some people, stampeding into a store at 5 a.m. to grab one of the six televisions marked down to $99 and then taking a moment to acknowledge how grateful they are to not be one of the 250 people who lost out on this megadeal, is enough.
For others, adopting the “garbage in, garbage out” philosophy of gift acquisition, is a better fit. That means every single time you bring something new into your house, you have to give something you currently have away. Not only will this prevent the gratitude-crushing inevitability of paying for a storage unit to store things you don’t use, but you will also help a local organization that needs clothes and housewares. Sure there’s the tried-and-true organizations like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, but don’t forget about smaller organizations like Coburn Place, which provides supportive services and housing options to survivors of intimate partner violence. Having personally donated to this organization in the past, I can assure you that the feelings you will feel by helping a person rebuild their life in a safe environment are exactly what you need to warm your soul.
I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but there is one surefire way to both feel and express your gratitude: Help someone else. No, I don’t mean give gifts to your family members who don’t need anything, although that feels kinda nice, too. I mean help your community and those people who need to rely on the gratitude of others to get them through a tough time.
You love grateful people. Everybody does. No one has ever encountered a grateful person and viewed their gratitude as a negative quality. Besides the food and the football, this is precisely why Thanksgiving is such a wonderful day. Don’t poison your mind with obsessions over what you don’t have. That is, unless, what you don’t have is gratitude.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.