Every Thanksgiving, Americans are inundated with images of beautiful smiling families, sitting around tables overflowing with food. But what if we saw something that looked more like what real life is like for America’s families today?
The reality is, these idyllic images of Thanksgiving are increasingly out of touch with the lived reality of so many Americans, who are working harder than ever and struggling more than ever to afford life’s basic needs.
Many Americans live every hour knowing that we are just one accident away from financial ruin, wondering if we’ll be able to make it through the month—all while being confronted with constant imagery that everything is great, and everyone is rich or middle class.
We are more connected than ever before by technology, yet more people than ever report feeling lonely and unhappy. We compare our lives and our relationships to the happiness we see in the media, and find our own to be wanting. We scroll through these perfect-looking lives on Facebook and Instagram, and we retreat to our own imperfect ones feeling like we don’t belong.
These illusions we see of perfect lives make us feel all the more isolated, particularly around the holidays. Yet the truth is that most Americans hurt and suffer every day. It’s a common feature of being human that we all experience, yet are trained to suppress and treat as taboo. We exhaust our energy trying to present an image of happiness and success, instead of asking others for help when we’re hurting.
Imagine if instead of feeling like you have to fake a smile when you feel pain, we felt like we could confide in each other, to share this experience that is as common and as human as eating and breathing. What if we were able to acknowledge that we are all in trouble and in need in our own way? What if, instead of messages of superficial happiness this time of year, we were instead surrounded by messages urging us to love each other and help those in need?
The truth is we all suffer, and we can find solidarity and comfort in acknowledging and being vulnerable about this shared experience.
That doesn’t mean all suffering is equal. Many Americans will literally go hungry on Thanksgiving, and the sadness of eating alone cannot possibly be equated with the pain of being hungry. But we also should not pretend that loneliness, depression, and anxiety aren’t also real and widespread.
So my message to those feeling less-than-grateful this Thanksgiving is this: You are not alone.
Many of us are struggling just to get by. Nearly every family is dysfunctional in some way. And each of us faces the illusions of media that make us feel like we don’t belong, that our struggles are the exception rather than the rule. Except the reality is the exact opposite. We all experience suffering, and we all belong to this broken, hurting nation.
So, this Thanksgiving, let’s come together to acknowledge that while we have much to be thankful for—many of us are also in pain. Because only when we stop pretending that everything is OK, can we break down the barriers between us and start to help and heal one another.