Several years ago, I read a pair of dueling editorial in the New York Times, one of which lambasted the conventional wisdom of resolution-making to usher in the New Year. The article’s main point was that there is a tried and true link between our overblown best-intentions, our inevitable expectations of ourselves and the ensuing disappointment (in many cases out-and-out depression). Why aren’t we more than we are? Why can’t we do what we set out to do, be who we set out to be?
The writer went on to propose that the wiser use of that time would be to take stock and give thanks. Apparently, there is ample evidence that people who tend to count their blessings, also tend to feel, well, that they have something to count! Consciously taking into consideration what goodness resides in your life, amplifies your awareness of it, thus making you, in a word, happier.
In other much simpler words which I’ve just heard in David Steindl-Rast‘s TED talk, “Being happy doesn’t make you grateful. Being grateful makes you happy.” Yes! That’s the way to put it best.
So. Thanksgiving. Giving thanks. I try to do this routinely. As middle age has crept up on me, I’ve noticed that the stuff that keeps one up at night and without breath during the day seems to multiply and intensify at an alarming rate. Walking helps. Cutting down on caffeine helps. Wine, in the right doses, helps (Wrong doses? The opposite.) Physical contact—wordless expressions of love—help.
But stopping and being glad for the good stuff really, really helps.
Recently, I’ve actually managed to send myself back to sleep by silently droning through the list of things that DON’T need to be worried about. “I am grateful that there is plenty of food in the refrigerator…I am grateful that right this minute, no one I know and love is in the hospital…I am grateful that the elderly in my family are safe and loved…I am grateful that my children don’t call me by my first name…I am grateful that I survived my ownership of a 1964 Corvair convertible (unsafe at any speed) from the ages of 25-30.
People often ask me if, living in Italy, I celebrate Thanksgiving. My Cancerian answer is yes and no. Some years I do, and some years I don’t. I’m an idealist about these things, and it’s not a tradition that I want to experience wholly or partially lost in translation. My children only sort of get it, though my husband totally appreciates it. It’s the one American holiday that approximates almost all of the Italian ones: It’s about family. It’s about savoring good food and good company. It’s about living, rooted, in the season’s bounty. It’s about sacrificing hours in the kitchen because you want to nourish other people. And then it’s about sitting around together and being grateful for all of the above.
Sometimes, some years, we ritualize that. And some years we don’t. This year I did my best. Carrot soup (the requisite orange thing), roasted turkey, sausage apple and sage dressing, gravy, brussels sprouts, green beans, and apple pie. it was eaten with gusto and appreciation. The flavors are long gone, but I’m trying to keep the Thanks-giving part of that one day a daily affair.
Tomorrow is Christmas. And here I sit quietly filing through some recent experiences that brought ridiculous, non-proportionate happiness. Some of them are scattered randomly throughout this post. A purple cauliflower that turned turquoise during cooking, but ended up a dusty rose color, mixed with anchovies, garlic and pasta. A frost-bitten field of unpruned hydrangeas. (The first cold of the year felt pure and clean. We needed it.)
An endless, experimental oyster dinner with my love, for which there was a different Italian wine for every non-Italian, cold-water course. Oysters, in all their slimy and briny glory, from many French estuaries, but also from Ireland and the Netherlands. My first “polenta pasticciata,” a heady mixture of polenta and gorgonzola, baked in the oven and served alongside roasted vegetables to appreciative silence on a cold day.
Garments—so naturally and beautifully formed—left casually modeled by two headless mannequins on a sidewalk in Como. And that dear dear city itself, which I look forward to visiting again, with its jewel of a lake, hidden between mountains, and its human-sized walled city which encloses one in a dignified embrace. And two book covers in a single display of Como’s Ubik bookstore that seemed to capture the essence of life: finding balance and stillness, staying on one’s toes, and trying (trying) to strike an insouciant, “I meant to do that” pose.
May you all, whoever and wherever you are, have a holiday full of good memories, health, sustaining thoughts and dreams, and loveliness in the extraordinary and banal details of your every-day loves and lives.