It’s Thanksgiving! A day dedicated to giving thanks. From better sleep to less stress to overall improved life satisfaction, studies abound on the power of gratitude. And the idea of counting your blessings isn’t new—the phrase first appeared in a sonnet by John Charles Earle in 1878. A couple decades later, Johnson Oatman Jr. advised counting your blessings to get through difficult times, and spiritual guidance to reflect on what you take for granted was the norm among Christian communities throughout the 19th century.
Today, ‘counting your blessings’ looks like swapping our screens for a gratitude journal before turning out the light each night. And while, in theory, it’s an innocent intention, in a culture where wellness has replaced religion, I fear it’s become just another form of self-improvement, one that falsely promises fulfillment.
As Sonya Huber writes, “New Age bibles like Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret and the accompanying The Secret Gratitude Book promise to help readers use the power of gratitude to realize desires.” With roots in the pragmatic-mysticism movement of the late 1800s, this overly optimistic (and frankly narcissistic) line of thought promotes the idea that simply thinking about what we’re grateful for will “manifest” not only positive emotions, but real change in our lives.
But whether it’s expressed at the dinner table on Thanksgiving, via an IG caption on your average Tuesday or written in a gratitude journal each night, how transformative can giving thanks really be if it’s performative?And at its worst, we get “toxic gratitude,” when we force ourselves to express gratefulness for what we do have in an attempt to alleviate any dissatisfaction or disappointment.
Look no further than last year as the perfect example of toxic gratitude performed en masse: amidst so much suffering and loss, people felt obliged to bookend any complaint with “but I’m grateful to still have my [health, job, family, etc].” Instead of making us feel better, expressing gratitude invalidated what we were actually feeling, making us more stressed and depressed.
What does it take to find a gratitude that goes beyond performance, one that actually make us feel some sense of wholeness or contentment? Can we only feel grateful for our blessings in their absence?
As Canadian Joni Mitchell sings, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” It was the defining sentiment of last year’s Thanksgiving; with families unable to gather and traditions disrupted, our expressions of gratitude were propelled by a sense of loss. This year, our thanks come from a newfound awareness of what it feels like to have our privileges return. As I concluded in a previous Best, “while [Mitchell] has a point, it’s less when it’s gone, and more when we gain it back, that we feel true gratitude.”
If pre-pandemic Thanksgivings served as a guilt-inducing reminder to express gratitude every other day of the year, and last year’s Thanksgiving, amidst so much loss, invalidated our pain by pressuring us to acknowledge our privilege, this year’s Thanksgiving might be the most authentic yet. We no longer need to devote a day to forcing a response to “what are you grateful for?” We can travel outside our homes, eat together, gather in person—we all know what we’re thankful for; gratitude is now the subtext to our every day.
As I’ve been trying to tune into my surroundings more often lately, this Thanksgiving I’m especially grateful for the country I call home. And so this week’s Best, is dedicated to Canada.
My first story for Insider is probably not going to go over well for Canadians—I promise I’m not as ungrateful for my citizenship as I sound! From the incredible snack and streaming selection to the late Thanksgiving delaying the annual Christmas pandemonium to pedestrians who actually know how to command the sidewalk, I share some of the perks to living in the U.S.
But can you guess what I miss the most?
“I miss it so much that I even paid a few hundred dollars more for an extended layover flight and Airbnb in Fort Lauderdale on my way home from South America a couple years ago, for no other reason than to stock up.”
After an 18-month closure—the first since the war of 1812—Canada finally reopened its border to U.S. travellers on August 9th. I covered everything visitors need to know—from vaccine requirements to transportation options to exciting new hotel openings (glamping tents with heated floors on Vancouver island? yes please).
The most interesting (and challenging) part of my reporting was summarizing what it’s like to travel here right now. The spirited air of hot wax summer lingers in cities, while the outdoors continue to be the main attraction for Canadians, as we’ve emerged from lockdown feeling more appreciative for, and curious to explore, our own backyard.
But the increase in domestic tourism hasn’t been enough to make up for the absence of U.S. visitors who, on average, spend more than double what Canadians do on overnight trips.
It’s why many in tourism are excited for the border to reopen: from David Daley of Indigenous-owned Wapusk Adventures who tells me, “80 percent of our bookings are coming from the States, it’s very welcome news,” to Zita Cobb, innkeeper at the infamous Fogo Island Inn who believes the forced pause of the pandemic has catalyzed a more conscious tourism.
“We all grew up with the belief that it’s better to see the lights of boats coming into the harbor than to see them going out,” says Cobb. “With this reopening, we are overjoyed that the metaphorical boats are coming back in.”
While I wasn’t one of many Canadians who embraced the outdoors this summer, the international travel restrictions have certainly made me reconsider my own country as a travel destination. As the second-largest country in the world, there is so much to see!
Did you know…
🐻 Churchill Manitoba is considered the polar bear capital of the world?
🏜 Saskatchewan has its own desert?
❄️ Every spring, 15,000-year-old icebergs migrate down “Iceberg Alley” off the coast of Fogo Island in NewFoundland and Labrador?
🦖 Alberta is home to the world’s richest dinosaur fossil site?
🧗🏻♀️ You can walk on the outside of the CN Tower, 1800 feet above the Toronto skyline?
We always assume the most exciting adventures are found abroad, but sometimes they’re hiding in plain sight. This year I’m feeling extra grateful for my own backyard.
🌊 The impact of climate change on one Canadian town in the north, “where sea ice isn’t just a natural element—it’s also an infrastructure used for traveling to hunting grounds,” writes Devi Lockwood.
🎣 Look to ancient Indigenous technology to save the salmon.
✈️ As the world reopens for travel, maybe it’s time Americans learned to be better tourists.
“When travel is toxic, locals suffer the most. But it hurts tourists, too. If we continue to exploit the world’s gifts, we may lose them as they degrade into ruins or are closed to outsiders.” - Sara Clemence.
🏡 The case for not traveling and staying put instead.
🇺🇸 How Americancore grew from backlash towards Americans exoticizing Asian grocery stores into its own internet aesthetic.
“Just as Japancore treats Asian cultures as a series of exotic products ripe for the taking, Americancore videos feature Asian American TikTokers visiting Walmart or other chain stores to gawk at mundane American foods—Twizzlers, Doritos, mayonnaise.” - Kyle Chayka.
🤳🏻 Perhaps the problem with our current era of mass fame is that people mistake seeking recognition, for seeking attention.
“Being known by strangers and seeking their approval, is an existential trap. And right now, the condition of contemporary life is to shepherd entire generations into this spiritual quicksand.” - Chris Hayes.
📧 The nagging dilemma of unanswered texts and emails, and the dangers of misinterpretation.
“What the age of instant communication has enabled is the ability to deal with conversation on our own terms. ‘Sorry, I was out with friends,’ we might say, as an excuse for not texting someone back. Or, ‘Sorry, I just need to text this person back real quick,’ we might say while out with friends.” - Julie Beck.
🍪 Comforting to know I’m not the only one who grew up with Royal Dansk cookie tin.
🦸♀️ What do Marvel characters eat?
Back in 2014, Canadian actor Simu Liu tweeted Marvel a light-hearted “how about an Asian-American hero?” Seven years later he got his wish, cast as the first Asian Marvel lead in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. While I’m not a big action movie person, and a total stranger to the Marvel universe, I felt obliged to see it for representation’s sake. I’m glad I did.
With creative choreography drawing on the traditions of classic kung fu movies, and teeming with Oriental symbolism (think, dragons and bamboo), Shang-Chi could have easily felt shallow in its use of Asian tropes. Instead, stereotypes are reclaimed and given complexity: from the subtle quick shot of Shaun (played by Liu) taking off his shoes before entering a friend’s house to a conversation between two second-gen Asian-Americans on how to properly pronounce a Chinese name.
More than the subtext of family and honor, I loved the film’s anchoring theme: how do you find a sense of self when you lose a parent at a young age? Parental loss aside, Shaun’s struggle to find himself feels emblematic of the grief many Asian-Americans experience when their internalized racism quiets their personality (it made me think of Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings). It’s only when Shaun faces his grief that he finds his true power.
“Canada is just as riddled with conflict and the problems of settler-colonialism, race and identity that the United States is. It’s not fair to assume it’s this utopia. It’s not perfect.” - Jeffers Lennox, associate professor of history at Wesleyan University.
In this episode of Getting Curious, Jonathan Van Ness interviews the prof to better understand what set our countries on different paths. They dig into Canada’s role in the American Revolution and Canada’s confederation story. Leave it to Queer Eye’s Van Ness to make snooze-worthy content interesting—“You’re more than a cute name Saskatchewan!”
What’s on your menu for Thanksgiving? I’m trying out a plant-based roast with sage stuffing and porcini gravy. While it’s from a U.S.-based company, there’s no shortage of Canadian brands offering delicious additions to your festive spread—especially in the “cheese” department, like a Herb & Garlic Soft Cheese or Sundried Tomato & Olive Cheese Block.
For breakfast, I’m thinking plant-based British Bangers (we gotta give thanks to the Queen, in addition to the planet) from Vancouver, with Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bread topped with Cashew Cinnamon Butter from Toronto. Or maybe I’ll keep it simple with prairie Quick Oats from Saskatchewan.
Then there’s the requisite pumpkin pie—do you use the canned filling or make yours from scratch? If you’re reading this from South of the border, I have one question for you: what’s with the sweet potato and marshmallow pie?