Gratitude in the age of instant gratification

This time of year, from Thanksgiving through Chanukah, is a grand display of contradiction.

First, we have Thanksgiving. We have this great feast, one that may arguably rival that of any Jewish holiday. Often, family and friends gather together before the meal. They chat in the kitchen and pick at roasted Brussels sprouts and green bean soufflé, while the person in charge of making the turkey waits hours for it to roast in the oven, basting and checking its temperature as it slowly cooks to perfection.

Meanwhile, others, between picking at small pieces of stuffing or pumpkin pie crust or mashed potatoes (who would notice?), set the table as they catch up, laugh, or bicker with other guests.

The cooking, the preparation, the conversing, the escaping to the den for some peace and quiet to watch a little football or “Flip or Flop,” or, if you are really into slow torture, post-election news — this whole process happens slowly, methodically, for many of us year after year. There is no rushing the day. No microwaved meals (at least not until tomorrow). No, “Sorry, gotta grab this turkey leg and run.” Nope. On Thanksgiving Day we are all in it for the long haul.

Thanksgiving is notable as an expression of gratitude. We “give thanks” for all the important people and things in life. We also give of ourselves, volunteering, donating money, or giving away physical possessions, like clothing and food. Thanksgiving is about continuing tradition. It’s about appreciating our past and sharing it with the future. It is about passing our gratitude down to the children.

Until, that is, we call the kids to the table. Then, simply put, it’s a pure display of instant gratification, a “Let’s eat!” as the children dig right into all the comfort food and sweet desserts.

After all the gratitude is said and done, after the feast has been devoured and the guests have left with overstuffed bellies, the contradiction of this holiday continues.

“We are so grateful for all the wonderful people and great fortune in our lives” swiftly morphs into, “So, what time should we wake up tomorrow to beat the rush at Target?”

Ah, Black Friday:

“What a bargain!”

“It’s a steal!”

“Better pick up three of them! No, make that four!”

“Do I really need this? I don’t know…um…do I? Oh, but it’s so cheap!”

And the kids. Let’s not forget the kids as they, much in the same way but in simpler terms, loudly announce during this mad rush: “Gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme!”

If ever there was a display of instant gratification, Black Friday is it.

Well, no — let me correct myself. I am wrong, actually. Because after we all rest up over the weekend, bragging about new flat-screen TVs and second guessing other purchases, we turn the corner and get caught in the web of the biggest impulse-buy day of the year.

On Cyber Monday, the dangers of ordering online are amplified. With but a tap of the finger, a click of the mouse — or many taps, or many clicks, as the case may be — we may find ourselves buying a wardrobe so large it could clothe a small country. Instant gratification at its finest.

But is it so fine? My head starts to spin as the roller coaster of instant gratification circles back around to gratitude when, the following day, hash-tagged all over the internet, is #GivingTuesday.

What is this day, Giving Tuesday? As I understand it, the day was created as a response to the commercialized nature of the past Friday and Monday. It’s kind of like having one drink too many on Thanksgiving night and going on a weekend bender, only to crash and then to remember once again why Thanksgiving was so important and special in the first place. (Not that I would know of this personally, of course.)

Back and forth, back and forth. Gratitude. Instant gratification. Gratitude. Instant gratification. What are we doing here?

And then Chanukah approaches!

Coordinating which family party is when according to who is available on what date at which time.

Shopping for presents and worrying about giving comparable gifts to whoever is giving to you and your family while also trying not to empty the bank account.

Agonizing over what to buy the nieces and nephews — iPads, iPods, Xbox games, Knicks tickets — when they’ve gotten too old for aisles 5 and 6 at Amazing Savings.

How do we best serve our collective need for instant gratification while simultaneously celebrating a holiday of gratitude and praise for the miracles that occurred? The first main miracle — how a small group of Maccabees were victorious in their revolt against the Seleucid Empire. The other, of course, how one small vessel of oil kept the Temple’s menorah alight for eight straight days.

Chanukah, here, is yet another holiday of gratitude, of thanksgiving, of savoring not just the taste but the symbolism of the potato latkes and jelly donuts and chocolate gelt, while at the same time trying to justify having more and more and more of these delicacies. We light the menorah as a symbol of gratitude, only to be followed by the youngsters jumping up and down chanting, “Presents! Presents! Where are my presents?”

Okay, perhaps my descriptions have gone a little overboard. And, to be clear, lest a person might take these previous paragraphs as “mussar,” I certainly am not immune to this phenomenon. If I were to tell my kids that there will be no Chanukah presents this year, I’m fairly certain my oldest daughter would offer a fake laugh and say, “Uh-huh. Good one, Mommy.” (Eye roll.)

All I am saying is, let’s be more cognizant of the situation. Let us recognize reality as it is, that sometimes gratitude is at odds with instant gratification, regardless of whether or not we would like to change it. And I’m sure there are multitudes who have figured out how to modify the equation and give more weight to the gratitude side of things. If any of those people would like to share some ideas, I’m sure I am not the only one who would listen with an open mind.

About the Author
Dena Croog is a writer and editor in Teaneck, New Jersey, whose work has focused primarily on psychiatry, mental health, and the book publishing industry. She is the founder of Refa’enu, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mood disorder awareness and support. More information about the organization and its support groups can be found at You also can email with any questions or comments.
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