Today is the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. As an American expat in the UK (albeit one who, after 18 years, feels as much British as American these days), I still like to commemorate the day.
Below is an American parable, perhaps familiar to some:
The Two Travellers and the Farmer
A traveller came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment.
"What sort of people live in the next town?" asked the stranger.
"What were the people like where you've come from?" replied the farmer, answering the question with another question.
"They were a bad lot. Troublemakers all, and lazy too. The most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted. I'm happy to be leaving the scoundrels."
"Is that so?" replied the old farmer. "Well, I'm afraid that you'll find the same sort in the next town.
Disappointed, the traveller trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.
Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. "What sort of people live in the next town?" he asked.
"What were the people like where you've come from?" replied the farmer once again.
"They were the best people in the world. Hard working, honest, and friendly. I'm sorry to be leaving them."
"Fear not," said the farmer. "You'll find the same sort in the next town."
A teacher of mine passed on the tale some time ago and the lesson stuck. Although one could be forgiven for feeling more like the first traveller these days, this perspective can shift depending on the lens we use.
These are tricky times. The constant drip of cortisol-producing news headlines is taking its toll on many. There is a feeling of helplessness and overwhelm in the air. I see it up close in in my consulting room; I feel it even closer in myself at times. And yet, we can turn to the wise words of the late American hero, Mr Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”’ So this is what I do to manage my own psyche these days. Look for the helpers. And the not-so-curious thing is the more I look, the more helpers I find. With gratitude, a Thanksgiving shout-out to the following ‘helpers’ who have kept me firmly in ‘Traveller 2 stance’ recently.
My son W whose humour and winning smile can cut through just about anything.
My American family who never make me feel guilty for moving thousands of miles away - ‘i carry your heart(s) with me.’
My adopted British/international extended family who share my day-to-day celebrations (+ sorrows) and have stopped questioning my love of country music.
My dog Teddy who always makes me feel like the person he thinks I am.
My wonderful colleagues and clients who allow me to engage in what feels like meaningful work with people who care.
My pain in the a*s acquaintances. After I’m done cursing you, I usually learn something from you.
And to my many ‘podcast friends.’ With the exception of weekend papers, I’ve largely turned off the news and social media these days. ‘My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane’ said a New Yorker cartoon making the rounds. Quite. But there are ‘keepers of the faith’ out there in podcast land or in their writing/speaking/videos. People who can and do grapple with difficult issues in a civil, constructive manner without resorting to divisive ‘us vs them’ soundbites. These are fellow travellers I like to tune in to. In alphabetical order (so as not to have to rank which felt wrong). Thank you.
Glennon Doyle & Wolfpack
The School of Life*
Tami Simon & Sounds True
Krista Tippett & On Being
Happy Thanksgiving, all. But remember, gratitude isn’t just for one day of the year. Cue plug for the work of Martin Seligman. This ‘father of positive psychology’ found that keeping track of blessings (3/day in a journal) led to an overwhelming majority (92%) of people feeling happier. A simple exercise in ‘re-focusing the lens.’ Maybe try it on for size? Happy travelling, and keep looking for the helpers.
* Full disclosure: I work as a psychotherapist at The School of Life. Even before joining their psychotherapy team, I was a huge admirer of TSOL online videos, thebookoflife.org and their many workshops and events.