I have a big family – four older brothers, three sisters-in-law, two nieces, and two nephews. A few were elsewhere for Thanksgiving this year, but we had 16 people at dinner.
Before the meal, we did the traditional move where everyone said what they were thankful for. Most people kept it surface-level and expressed gratitude for family, friends, and health. The Big Three at a Thanksgiving table. Real classics.
Maybe because I was distracted by my kids yelling, "I'm thankful for BUTT CHEEKS" and then belly-laughing, my answer was the Big Three.
I try to be aware of the things that I'm grateful for. I believe in the formula: happiness = reality - expectations, and appreciating reality is the most important step. But, like whiffing on an interview question, I was irked that I didn't come up with a better answer at the Thanksgiving table.
So I did what any good dad does when trying to escape the movie blaring from the iPad – I spent most of the 2.5-hour drive back to Columbus noodling on it.
American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed the idea of a "hierarchy of needs" in a paper in 1943. His idea is the range of human needs, from physical safety and food to self-actualization and transcendence, are in a hierarchy. Most often shaped as a pyramid, physiological needs like air, water, clothes, and shelter are at the base, with ideas like self-actualization and transcendence at the top.
A framework for understanding human behavior, the fundamental idea of this hierarchy is that baser needs must be met before an individual pursues higher-level needs. So if someone is hungry, tired, thirsty, or cold, she will not be motivated to seek friendships, prestige, or feelings of accomplishment.
As I was thinking about it on the drive home, I realized that gratitude is like Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
At its base, I'm grateful that I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, warmth and cool when I need them, a place to sleep, and abundant food. I won the genetic lottery and have had these things all my life.
For many of us, base needs are the easiest to forget to be grateful for. I know I take them for granted. But when there's a mid-winter power outage, I quickly remember to be grateful for warmth. Like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, when trying to function in a 50-degree house, it's hard to find any higher-level gratitude.
The next level of gratitude is the Thanksgiving table sweet spot. Family, friends, health, two good kids, and a wife that's way out of my league. Neighbors who help us co-parent and a neighborhood that makes a house into a home. The familiar strangers I see at the grocery store and the fellow moms I see at parks, playgrounds, and preschool pickup. Even if I don't always appreciate it, these things bring texture to life.
If it's a hard day with the kids, someone I care about is sick, or I don't see a favorite familiar stranger for a while, things feel... off. , I don't always appreciate these things until they're gone, and it's hard to feel the next level of gratitude until they're back to normal. Noticing this second level of gratitude often takes something like being prompted at the Thanksgiving table.
But once I feel my base and second-level gratitude, I can then feel the top level of my hierarchy: physical and mental places I can go to feel grounded.
I have an IKEA POÄNG (yes, I copy/pasted to get the Ä right) in the corner of our bedroom that is my sanctuary. Any time of day, sitting in that chair with a book grounds me. I also have a wife who isn't afraid to push me on anything and friends I talk to about everything. And no matter what happened that day, my kids will yell at me to refill their water bottles. All humbling.
Whatever noise, good or bad, swirls around me and the world, I'm grateful to have places and people that ground me and make me feel at home and at peace. I wonder if everyone is so lucky.
So, as we pass Thanksgiving and barrel into the holiday season, once you feel your own version of base and second-level gratitude, what are you really thankful for?
Like some others, maybe you're most grateful for BUTT CHEEKS!