Psychologist and Nobel-winning economist Daniel Kahneman was asked by Time Magazine’s Belinda Luscombe, “How has your research changed the way you live?” For an economist, his answer is both unexpected and illuminating. “When you analyze happiness, it turns out that the way you spend your time is extremely important. Decisions that affect how much time you spend with people you like are going to have a very large effect on how happy you are—not necessarily satisfied with your life but happy.”
This is so true.
And on that note, I’ve noticed that I don’t feel as thankful on Thanksgiving as I do every other day of the year. This is a shocking realization I have in the midst of rolling out my pumpkin pie pastry. So unattractive did I find this moment of self-realization that I wrinkled my nose. What a stinky way to be was my initial reaction. Guilt was the delayed reaction. But I also knew I had better take a closer look at my feelings and my grumpy behavior, not only for the sake of my own happiness, but also my cooking companions, William and Natalie.
This is what happens to me on Thanksgiving: I find myself feeling more and more exhausted as the meal preparations reach a crescendo, about two hours before everyone arrives. This year, Natalie had suggested we “strive to be both productive and relaxed” as we go about our Thanksgiving meal preparations. Until 3:30 pm, I have been successful at both. At 3:31 pm, I am no longer relaxed. By 4 pm, I make the announcement that Thanksgiving isn’t as much fun as it is hard work. I sound like a Grinch. Natalie assures me that all is well. She has set the table beautifully with her great grandmother’s silver, cloth napkins and candles. William has been basting the turkey every twenty minutes and it has taken on a golden hue. Desserts and squash are ready. But mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and baby zucchini still need scrubbing. William pours a small glass of port wine for me and I cheer up the tiniest bit, even though I am wishing with my whole body that I could sit down with a cup of tea and a good book to recover my senses. Dear friends arrive. Dinner is ready to serve. Both the company and food are delicious, and fortunately, I recover my composure and positive outlook.
Nevertheless, while we enjoy a picnic of turkey sandwiches on a bike ride the next day, I tell William and Natalie that I would like Thanksgiving to be simpler next year. I want it to be more relaxing, so that there is more space and time for me to feel thankful on Thanksgiving. No one suggests that I am a Grinch. We brainstorm. William suggests we leave out yams next year. I say we can order desserts from our favorite bakery. Natalie proposes roasting two chickens, rather than a large turkey. We’re looking out over the Westchester bluffs at a stupendous view of West Los Angeles and the Santa Monica Mountains. The turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread with a smidgen of mayonnaise and a dash of salt and pepper are delicious. That’s when the thankful feeling wafts over me. If I had to go through an unthankful two hours to arrive at this thankful minute, I’m grateful. We can revise Thanksgiving. I love knowing that! And I appreciate spending most of my time with two people who I like so much, and who are open to revision (vs. repetition) if it will lead to greater happiness.