Tomorrow, many celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, where it is a public holiday and families travel across the land to reunite and celebrate the occasion together.
Depending on which website you surf, anywhere from five to over 15 other countries in the world have their own version of Thanksgiving too.
Not so here in my little tropical island-state on the equator; probably less than a handful of my countrymen even know about Thanksgiving. But I’m betting my last dollar a majority knows what is the significance of the day after tomorrow!
So I guess you can say we “don’t give thanks” enough here?
I think that’s one good reason why thanksgiving is the fourth set of life skills I believe to be absent from my arsenal. (You may wish to check out the rest of my “deficiencies” here)
Let me explain.
A frugal childhood
Growing up in a large family packed into a tiny apartment, I lived well enough above the poverty line, though not by very much. Thankfully, the cost of living then was nowhere near what it is now.
So throughout my childhood, I learned not to hanker for too many of life’s niceties. Not difficult to do really, since it was still the 1970’s anyway. Our nation was still working hard to move past the dark days of the Japanese Occupation and infant years of nation building (we only gained official independence in 1965, five years before I was born).
While I never really wont for anything, I also never asked for many things either; there was hardly space in our apartment anyway.
Over time, I learned to play with what I have and make-believe the rest. From simple plastic toy horses and soldiers, to just an old, smelly baby pillow, I got by. It helped that I don’t live anywhere close to any displays of affluence, so perhaps ignorance truly is bliss.
Too good to be true
Unfortunately, as I grew older and encountered signs of affluence (my high school was a couple of streets from the premiere shopping district of the country), I started to wonder what it was like living with the many creature comforts I started to notice around me. Especially among the fashionistas that were my schoolmates.
I’m not really going to dwell here on what used to be, but it’s safe to say the seeds were sown for me to feel I wasn’t as blessed as the Jones-es; that the world hadn’t dealt me a fair hand. The things I saw my peers possess — the clothes they wore, gadgets they carried (in those days we’re talking Walk/Disc-mans and clunky headphones), big houses they lived in…it all just seems too good to be true.
For me anyway.
But it wasn’t all about material goods either.
Everyone around me just seemed smarter than me, taller and better built or more handsome than me; not to mention more confident than me. They seem to strut about knowing exactly who they were and what they wanted out of life.
How on earth did they, on top of owning all manner of beautiful baubles, manage to also figure it all out even before hitting sweet 16?!
What I wouldn’t give back then to have all of that, and with change to spare!
Seeds of discontent not easily uprooted
Oh, and I also hire a foreign domestic helper who lives with us and has helped to take care of our household needs for a decade now.
Doesn’t sound like I have anything to worry about, especially since we actually have the means to hire a stay-in domestic helper right? Then again, as of 2019, one in five households here hire domestic helpers, with the number set to rise as demand increases. Other than Hong Kong, we’re probably one of the most “well-served” nations in Asia.
But it doesn’t mean the seeds of envy sown in my growing-up years have therefore been uprooted.
The truth is they often return to haunt me, recalling for me all the envy moments I had before of those who seem to have their lives so well put together.
And don’t even get me started on how the proliferation of social media, and their always rosy pictures — of the lives of others — loaded up every hour, further fuels my discontent (good thing I started last year to lay off social media between six and 12 months a year).
“Where oh where is my thanksgiving?”
Gosh, did I just let on that appearances of success and happiness shown by others still matter to me, a man already past 50?!
I guess so. (Maybe somewhere in there is the fifth set of life skills I don’t have!)
I often find myself defaulting towards covetousness. It’s not a proud admission but it is real for me. If ever my sons were to read this, just know that Daddy’s not proud of it, but rest assured I’m fully aware of it. And it’s certainly not something I plan to do nothing about.
It’s just that right now, I still don’t quite have the skills to know what to do to reverse the situation.
But maybe all’s not quite lost.
To have thanksgiving, begin with what’s true
This week in my quiet time reading, I was reminded to focus on, among other things, what’s true, noble, just, beautiful and honourable. So now, I’m trying to do that by taking one thing at a time and zeroing in on examples of truth in my life.
Like the truth I stated earlier: still married two decades on, having two great kids and a mom still healthy and alive.
Hopefully, that’ll slowly start to turn my head around and begin to equip me with a much-needed life skill as Thanksgiving approaches. And if studies in the US are anything to go by (more than 60% aged 18 -24 registering anxiety and depression), many like the younger generations are going to need it too.
You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene
To illustrate his last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do
Just when everything looked so dark
Man, they said we better
Accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
No, do not mess with Mister In-Between