The Morning Jolt


Looking for Gratitude in an Ungracious World

( fortyforks/Getty Images)

Good luck with your Thanksgiving travels today; if you’re on I-95 North between Fairfax County, Va., and Bucks County, Pa., get out of the left lane. This is the last Jolt until next Monday. On the menu today: a couple of thoughts on gratitude in 2021 America and why you don’t really need to tell your relatives that they’re wrong about politics this year; contemplating what actually makes people happy and satisfied with life; and a grab-bag of observations about the state of the country and the world.

Gratitude in 2021

Yesterday’s front page of USA Today offered a sweet sentiment:

“COVID-19 was all about death,” says Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley. “This recovery is about a renewed feeling of survival, a gratefulness for backyard barbecues, religious services, or listening to live music. It’s a time of gratitude.”

Then again . . . does it feel like “a time of gratitude”? Maybe if we remove the “gr” and add a second “t.”

Gratitude is incompatible with telling somebody else that they’re living their life wrong, and that is what we have in abundance right now.

This year, like other years, we get the annual deluge of “How to talk about politics and the pandemic and get along with your family at Thanksgiving and other holidays” stories. We get, “Here’s how to fact-check your family at the Thanksgiving dinner table” or “Avoiding difficult discussions about race is a luxury we don’t have.”

This year brings a new wrinkle, as Axios informs us that we, “need to appoint a Thanksgiving COVID bouncer.”

We’ve been doing Thanksgivings our whole lives, Axios. I think we can handle it, thank you.

I notice the advice rarely involves recommendations to say things such as, “Uncle Louie, I wish you were vaccinated, but I’m really thankful that you’re alive and have made it through the pandemic okay so far. I know it sounds like I’m nagging, but I say these things because I care about you and want to see you at these Thanksgivings for many years to come.” That may not change Uncle Louie’s mind, but at least he’s likely to see the disagreeing relative in a better light.

What Do We Really Want for the Holidays?

Speaking of gratitude, in case you’re wondering how things are going over at Vox, now that most of its biggest names have moved on to other publications, Terry Nguyen helpfully explains how the supply-chain crisis and higher prices are actually good things that we should be more appreciative of:

We know that our collective consumption of consumer goods, from the creation of plastic toys to the fossil fuels that ship them to our homes, isn’t good for the environment. Yes, on a consumer level, our ability to control resource consumption is minimal, but that doesn’t mean there’s no good in a holiday season where gift exchanges don’t require an Amazon Prime account or transit via multiple shipping containers. Mindfulness has its own benefits, especially for affluent consumers, which includes America’s upper-middle class. The higher-income consumers among us use far more resources than the less well-off and are responsible for influencing shopping norms at large.

Right around here, I could go on a predictable tirade about how progressives are making excuses for the fumbling and bumbling Biden administration, how the media would treat empty store shelves and the Dollar Tree raising prices to $1.25 as a an abominable crisis if Donald Trump were still president, and how environmentalists want you to make do with less to make themselves feel better. But I presume you know that or have heard those arguments before. So, let’s zig when the world expects us to zag.

The irony is that you could probably find quite a few conservatives and right-of-center folk who wonder if, or believe that, American society has grown too materialistic. They are unlikely to believe that the right solution to excessive materialism is a supply-chain crisis and out-of-control inflation; we want Americans to buy less because they’ve decided they don’t need or want as much, not because they can’t afford as much.

But even the most ardent capitalist can recognize that the “He who dies with the most toys, wins” philosophy doesn’t really satisfy our souls. There is no one central authority that tells Americans what they should want out of life. That gets shaped by our parents and families; our schools; our churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions; and, indisputably, some elements of our mass media and pop culture. When we see someone famous and beautiful smiling at us from the cover of a magazine, and the title of that magazine literally declares them to be the embodiment of success, and in addition to being a famous musician or pro athlete or Hollywood actress, they have a house overlooking the ocean, worthy of international recognition for its striking and unique architecture . . . of course lots of us look at that and say, “That’s what I want to be! That’s what I’m going to work hard to become!”

But there are a lot of people who climb to the top of the ladder, accumulate all that wealth, get that nice big house, drive that fancy car, have all the trappings of success . . . and belatedly realize that none of that stuff really makes them happy. We notice that celebrities, who would seem to have every material need and desire instantly and ostentatiously satisfied, keep developing drug problems, drinking problems, and other self-destructive addictions. There’s a reason people say “money can’t buy happiness,” and it’s probably not just as a consolation for the fact that they don’t have as much money as they wish they had.

Mind you, this isn’t saying that wealth causes unhappiness or that many of us wouldn’t prefer the problems that come with being wealthy (higher taxes, envious friends, everyone asking you for money) over the problems that come from not being wealthy (not being able to afford the things we want, and in some cases, need). This is just observing that a million dollars falling into our laps wouldn’t instantly solve all the problems in our lives. It is likely to solve some while creating new problems.

Looking for statistics on the correlation between wealth and happiness, I ran across this sharp observation from millionaire Timothy Kim:

However, those who prioritize accumulating wealth are left thinking “now what?” once they hit their goal, says the millionaire. “If someone gives you $100 million and you don’t have to work anymore, you’re going to quickly find out that life feels a little meaningless and you have this hole.”

Kim notes that this is simply human nature. “Most people want to add value to society,” he says. “They want to feel productive. They want to use their brain.”

Though it may sound relaxing, Kim doesn’t believe that people truly want to sit on a couch watching Netflix for 15 hours a day for the next 60 years or sipping martinis on the beach all day long.

“[People] think that they want that because they have so little downtime,” he says. “But it gets boring super quick.”

In an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Jordan Peterson pointed out that many people’s vision of “the good life” or a happy retirement is not really what would make them happy.

“I talked to one of the people that I was working with, who had a vision for retirement,” Peterson began. ‘I said, ‘Well, what’s your vision for retirement?’ ‘Well, I see myself on the beach, you know, some tropical country, drinking margaritas.’ And I thought, ‘That’s not a plan, that’s a travel poster!’ How long can you have a margarita on a beach? Like maybe you can do that once every six months for ten minutes, something like that. It’s not a vision, it’s this 16-year-old fantasy of paradise. It just doesn’t work out. The thing that sustains people through life, really, is the lifting of a worthwhile burden.”

This Thanksgiving, may all of your burdens be worthwhile.

Meanwhile, around the Country and beyond Our Shores . . .

If you absolutely must have some appetizers of politics before tomorrow’s big meal . . .

The New Yorker: “Unlike the [International Olympic Committee], the [National Basketball Association], or any number of global corporations — the Women’s Tennis Association refused to hide behind platitudes about the unifying power of sport or other self-justifications when it came to Peng Shaui. It testified to a real concern for its players and their rights that few of its peer organizations ever fully show.”

The New York Times: “This was supposed to be the year vaccines brought the pandemic under control. Instead, more people in the United States have died from Covid-19 this year than died last year, before vaccines were available.”

Related to the above, from Ed Morrissey at Hot Air:

Last October I was pretty irritated when President Biden (or someone on his team) tweeted, ‘I’m not going to shut down the country. I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m going to shut down the virus.’ So simple. So arrogant. So false. Joe Biden promised it would be easy to solve the country’s problems. We just needed his leadership to make it happen. How is that promise looking now that there have been more COVID deaths in 2021 than there were in 2020. True that’s largely the result of the delta variant but Biden also had three effective vaccines from the day he took office. Biden promised a return to the pre-COVID world but that hasn’t happened and after Afghanistan a lot of people are wondering if he was really ever up to the job of just had a good PR team.

The BBC: “The Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen points the finger of blame at the international community and tells me the suffering of the Afghan people has been caused by the actions of the West. ‘If they are saying that this country is heading towards catastrophe, starvation, humanitarian crisis, then it is their responsibility to take action, proper action to prevent all these tragedies.’”

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it yesterday, when “national conservatives” envision using the federal government to enact their preferred policy goals and reshape society . . . they tend to envision a much more competent, much more efficient, much more effective federal government than the one that actually exists. This is one reason why, even at the times when I agree with their goals, I think their plans are unlikely to work. A self-described conservative who unironically says, “we need to unapologetically embrace the use of state power” has not been paying close attention to state power.


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