LOUISE O'NEILL: Why the modern interpretation of Thanksgiving appeals to me

‘It’s easy to fall into a habit of dissatisfaction, culminating in a sense of uneasiness about our lives. Is this it? Is this all there is? writes Louise O'Neill

Last Thursday marked Thanksgiving Day in the United States and while I’m not sold on the idea of celebrating the genocide of indigenous people (I’m funny that way), there’s something about the modern interpretation of Thanksgiving that appeals to me. It takes all the aspects of Christmas that I like but without all the rampant consumerism. I cannot stand the “If Tiny Tim doesn’t get his Luvabella Doll (yes, I had to Google ‘must have toys for 2017’) then Christmas is ruined!” rhetoric; which is convenient, since I have no children of my own to disappoint/emotionally damage by failing to provide said doll. But Thanksgiving?

A day off work to relax, eat delicious food, and remember to be grateful for all the good in your life? It’s genius. We’ve adopted so many things from the Americans, why can’t we steal Thanksgiving as well?

In the world of wellness, gratitude has long been a buzzword. It was particularly popular after Mindfulness was the go-to tool to achieve enlightenment, and right before Compassion became chic. (Do try and keep up.) Fashionability aside, incorporating a practice of gratitude has been proven to reduce stress and increase your over-all sense of well being. That’s not to say that it’s appropriate in all circumstances. It is almost impossible to feel grateful for the tragic death of a loved one, or a frightening diagnosis of a disease, or grave financial difficulties.

But for the most of us who aren’t facing such immediate and overwhelming challenges, it’s easy to fall into a habit of dissatisfaction, culminating in a sense of uneasiness about our lives. Is this it? Is this all there is? With the saturation of social media, we now have access behind closed doors on a scale that we’ve never had before. From celebrities with their perfect homes and clothes and bodies, to our own friends who possess the uncanny ability to create perfect smoothie bowls that don’t look like regurgitated seaweed, and spend their lives on holidays without getting their periods, (bitter, me?), it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing your insides to everyone else’s outsides.

No wonder the rates of people presenting with anxiety disorders has increased exponentially in the last number of years. When we’re living in a world that tells you that you have to strive for more and more and more; that nothing is ever good enough, how on earth can we expect to feel peaceful?

And while I’m not suggesting that gratitude is some sort of panacea for an anxiety disorder, often a debilitating illness that requires professional help and support, it’s definitely a useful practice for those of us that are suffering from a generalised sense of ennui.

I have seen lengthy periods of time disappear because of getting caught on a treadmill of work and determination, rather than taking a moment to be appreciative. The goalposts are
constantly shifting in order to incorporate new goals. I’ll be happy when I write a book, I’ll be happy when I find an agent, I’ll be happy when they sell the book to a publisher, I’ll be happy when it’s a best-seller, I’ll be happy when there’s a movie adaptation, I’ll be happy when it’s won an award, I’ll be happy when it’s won this particular award, and actually that award too please, and maybe that one as well?

I’m frequently trying to find a balance between allowing myself to be as ambitious and driven as is true for me, while not losing sight of everything that I have to be grateful for, right now.

On days that I’m fed up and tired, when I think the world is moving too slowly and my desires are always just out of reach, I force myself to bring it back to the basics. When I get out of bed and put my feet on the floor, I say that I am grateful that I can walk. When I make my green tea, I remind myself that clean water is a luxury that millions of people on this planet can only dream of. I tell my father to have a good day at work, and I hear my mother say ‘morning, Lou!’ in her indefatigably cheerful manner, and I am grateful for the plentiful love and kindness in my family.

I have been broke at points in the past, but I have been never poor; I have always had a house to live in, a fire to sit by, enough food to eat.

Every night before I go to sleep, I write in a little journal that I keep by my bed, listing the five things that I am grateful for on that day.

Funnily enough, it’s usually not the big, exciting events that bring the most satisfaction but rather the tiny, observed moments that make me feel glad that I am alive.

We are all so focused on being happy in the future, that we forget that the building blocks of existence are made up in the here and now, in all of those small moments of joy.

If we can be grateful for the small moments, then the happy life that we are constantly dreaming of can, and will be ours.

It’s easy to fall into a habit of dissatisfaction, culminating in a sense of uneasiness about our lives. Is this it? Is this all there is?

Louise Says:

LISTEN: I am obsessed with Where Should We Begin?, a podcast with Esther Perel, an American psychotherapist who specialises in relationships and sexuality. The listener can eavesdrop on the couples who come to Perel for therapy, and her wisdom and compassion is a joy to witness.

READ: I’m currently working my way through Meg Wolitzer’s back catalogue. While The Interestings will always be my favourite, I am loving The Wife. It’s a sharp-eyed look at the sacrifices women make when it comes to marriage and children.


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