Thanksgiving is far and away my favorite day of the year. I love food. I love family. I love football. And I love reflection. What I don’t love is what Thanksgiving has become. It has become the “official start of the holiday shopping season.”
I love that Thanksgiving exists to remind us that we should be thankful for the things that we have, but I feel sick that we spend the other 364 days lamenting the things that we don’t have. And in recent years we have kicked this off with the most horrific display of American greed that exists in modern society today: Black Friday. I know that “black” is meant to describe retailers moving “into the black” (becoming profitable), but I think it signifies the beginning of the blackening of our hearts until the next Thanksgiving. The formerly most grounded day in America is now followed by the shallowest display of mindless spending, greed, and excess that is Black Friday. Retailers want us to do stupid irrational things, and we gladly do them. We camp out to buy consumer electronics that we don’t need. We trample our fellow humans in order to get the latest Crap My Pants Elmo or whatever the PR machine spins. Black Friday shopping has even under-classed itself. Instead of fighting each other for gifts for each other, we are now fighting each other for gifts for ourselves. The crowds are thick with self-givers and farcical units which perpetuate the thoughtless gift-fest that is American Christmas. The beast is hungry. We feed the beast. The beast eats us.
Thanksgiving was the day that we used to stop, find and then give thanks. But the crazier that consumerism gets, the harder it is to find true gratitude and humility. Thanksgiving has become Waldo. We can hardly locate sincere thanks when our actions are those of the unappreciative. If you were truly thankful for your income, would you treat it like you do? If you were truly thankful for your job, would you try harder than you do? If you were truly thankful for the freedom that we enjoy in American, would you still help destroy the fabric of this country via cancerous consumerism? If you aren’t part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. The corporate greed that deadens our holiday celebrations was seeded by our thoughtlessness. We have married ourselves to this by our yearnings for more, our discontentment in what we have, and our refusal to buck popular culture in order to change popular culture.
The prophetic words of Langston Hughes have never rang more true. He writes in 1935’s Let America be America Again:
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
Recently, a friend of mine in Georgia lost everything. Everything. He lost his wife. He lost his business. He lost his wealth. He lost his status and credibility. If he gives thanks this Thursday, then I know it will be sincere. For when you have nothing, then you can see what you really have. The noise will be turned down. He can’t be thankful for his money. He doesn’t have any. He can’t be thankful for his wife. He doesn’t have one. He can’t be thankful for his business. He doesn’t have one. He can’t be thankful for his status and credibility. He has none. What will he see this Thursday? Will he see what he has lost, or will he see what he has? If he had ever been truly thankful for all that he had, then would he still be in this position today? These questions keep me up at night.
I wish the best for you. I just hope that we both are on the same page on what “best” means. I hope that the aspects of your life that you can make simple, are simple. The rest is complex. I know this. Just don’t make the rest of your life harder than it needs to be. To me, this means being thankful everyday for the life that you have…and not missing out on it by focusing on the things that you don’t have. Happy Thanksgiving.
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.