Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving and Happiness

I’ve found, by experience for sure and by observation as well, that it doesn’t take much to be happy. When we’re children, an early Saturday morning watching cartoons or a bowl of sugary cereal with the family was all it took to keep me smiling. As I got older, the happiness factor became a lot more…complicated.

But the end-all, be-all of happiness – true happiness – isn’t about an item, a purchase or some intangible acquisition that sates our mercurial, material desires. And without being obtuse, there’s no one thing that any one of us can point to that is “It” – but the hardest thing, I’ve come to realize, about being happy isn’t about the happiness itself but actually figuring out what it is that we want that will instill that intrinsic sense of happiness – satisfaction, accomplishment/achievement, and arrival, all wrapped up in one endorphin rush of happiness.

At this time of year, we all – hopefully – have something for which we’re thankful, something which makes us happy and appreciative. Despite the fact my Aunt is in the hospital recovering from a somewhat serious illness, she’s on the mend and we’ll re-do Thanksgiving as a family in January. I’m certainly thankful for that. I’m also thankful that Kaia will soon be a full-time NYC resident. And I’m thankful my family – near, far, immediate, distant – is doing well and everyone is living and enjoying life now and for the future. I’m also thankful our office relocation went smoothly and largely without incident, that nothing exploded or blew up and the new digs are an improvement on the old.

But inasmuch as I am genuinely pleased over these details, I think the crux of my happiness – as opposed to my gratitude – isn’t any of these items per se but instead that I am thankful, and I have lots for which to be thankful. On some level this is all semantic nonsense for sure, but while one could opine that he was thankful a large animal missed kicking him in the genitalia, being thankful in and of itself isn’t, for me, the reason why I enjoy Thanksgiving as much as I do. Of course the food is a key player in the overall euphoria that many of us cite when we declare our love for this particular holiday. It’s just that, for me at least, what really comes together is that – much like on a Father’s Day or a Mother’s Day or any special day meant to celebrate those we care so much about – I’m happy I have as much as I do for which to be thankful.

We tend to get wrapped up in minutiae of our lives, which seemingly become busier each day and each year – myself included – and part of that minutiae is the pursuit of useless, short-lived crap with which we adorn our lives like clutter in a shrinking room. For that I know I am guilty far more often than I’d care to admit.

But inevitably, while some religions – eg the Jewish New Year – are about seeking others’ forgiveness and giving that same forgiveness to others, what I think is interesting about Thanksgiving is it is a cultural, rather than religious, endeavor whose sole directive is not to forgive or focus on past indiscretions or problems or issues or disappointments but simply on people and things we have in our lives for which we’re appreciative.

While each Thanksgiving invariably offers us the chance to briefly surrender the appreciation of our lives and instead flip the Nissan that just cut us off in traffic the bird, or to chastise Uncle Nathan for breaking wind in the living room with all the guests downwind, the short and long of it – for better or worse – is that it’s a time for us to exercise some restraint and be thankful for what we have rather than focus on that which we don’t.

Best wishes to you and your families for a genuinely happy Thanksgiving and for a happy, healthy year.