I’m pretty sure most problems can be solved by a cashmere sweater. At least the kind of problems a white girl with an artisanal coffee habit has in a gas-fired home in northern Idaho. The kind of problems we cause ourselves because we won some kind of life lottery.
This is what I think about when I sit down to meditate on gratitude. I say that in a resentful, bitter tone to my solipsistic teenagers. I sent her to the store to get contact lens solution and vegetables. They came back with a bag of party-sized potato chips.
“We couldn’t find the eyewitness,” they said as they handed me a receipt and my credit card.
“I’m going to breathe in some abundance,” I force out between clenched teeth. “After all, it’s Thanksgiving.”
I meditate just long enough to know that I will not attain enlightenment in this lifetime. And to create a one-sided romantic relationship with the voice of a Berkeley mindfulness teacher. My husband got suspicious, so I told him meditation was like drinking a glass of wine.
“Well, no wonder that’s how you start and end your day,” I thought I heard him mutter as my headphones silenced him and the crackling of a bag of chips.
I breathe in abundance and I breathe out gratitude as my meditation friend John tells me. But all I can think about is how much I really need a new cashmere sweater and how much I hate toxic positivity in yoga class.
“Remember, this is your practice,” says the girl, who stepped out of a Vuori catalogue, “and some bodies just aren’t made to bend a certain way.”
Because mine is fat, I think, remembering fondly the scones that have become my morning ritual. Then I feel it: gratitude! I breathe in quickly, trying to absorb it from the air around me. Yes, I’m thankful for scones. And oversized cashmere sweaters that hide evidence of my pastry habit.
I want to be thankful. I am not lacking in awareness of or about the blessed life I am living. I own several down jackets. Most of them are Patagucci. i live in the mountains We don’t have water shortages.
But someone just shot up an LGBTQ bar. Ukraine is dark at night. Qatar bought the World Cup and thousands of British fans are mourning the hangover they will miss this year. A few hundred people were flattened in Indonesia. Being grateful seems to be an unabashed wave of my privileged flag.
Not just the one I was born with, but the strange colors of the cosmos that have saved me from debacle and disaster lately. There was no death or cancer diagnosis or a burned down house. I can afford the therapy needed to mend the wounds of what must have been a bad childhood. I’m waiting for the other karmic shoe to fall.
Worst of all, I’m not particularly grateful because I still need contact lens solution and I don’t want sour cream and onion chips for dinner. Self-pity and self-pity shame run deep this Thanksgiving. Sometimes I try to justify it with what I paid for a pound of grass-fed ground beef.
What I need is a third world experience. Instead, my inbox fills up with ideas for other things I might need: a lifetime subscription to the Calm app (a real threat to my marriage at this point), a new Oura ring, the softest sweatpants ever, and this cashmere sweater with pockets. The pledge of gratitude is just a click away.
Having so much to be thankful for makes me wonder when the universe will find out its math was wrong and recalculate the spread of suffering. In this equation, fate and fairness have equal value.
If we were truly thankful for all that was given to us, would we realize how unjust it all was? Is this what drives anxiety and depression in our youth today?
“You wouldn’t understand anyway,” my teenager says of teenage troubles. The problems they created: Private schooling was terrible, her iPhone was short on storage, and the ophthalmology aisle was too far from the potato chip aisle.
I had turned off John’s gentle soothing, suggesting I slow down and feel deep in my pelvis. I was lost again in all the things I wasn’t thankful for. I complained that I had to make two kinds of mashed potatoes. God forbid we have too many leftover mashed potatoes. Even my abundance is a burden. Then I notice.
Our happiness is not chosen, but our misery is.
We spend a lot of time together, for more emotional reason than any of us would admit, choosing our misery. We complain about having too much and nowhere to store it, our indigestion from overeating, our gas bills from overheating, and the price of cashmere. Our entire nation will spend the next few weeks causing a cascade of inflammatory harm (and a unsurprising simultaneous spike in heart attacks and strokes) while battling for extended Black Friday sales.
If we can choose our misery, let’s be unhappy about other people’s suffering instead of trying to identify ours. That’s a cause we can do something about. This narcissistic attachment to our own problems in an attempt to drown out the horrors of the world distracts us from contributing to change. If we’re blessed and live in fear of the universe restoring order, maybe that’s the point: we are what has the power to create balance. At least be thankful for that. Then use your power. And I’m fine with some of that being spent on cashmere.
Ammi Midstokke can be reached at [email protected]