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Thoreau and Thanksgiving

Shivani Tripathi

Posted on November 28, 2018 20:06

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Is having a lot always good?

“Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify,” Philosopher Henry David Thoreau said. “Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.”

In the early 1800s, Thoreau lived in a cabin in the forest for two years, growing his own food and spending his days observing nature. He wrote “Walden” during his free time, a novel which detailed living out of necessity. According to Thoreau, there are only four necessities: Food, shelter, clothing, and fuel.

Once a person has fulfilled these four necessities, they must focus on personal knowledge. Everything else is a luxury. “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind,” Thoreau asserted.

The holidays are the antithesis of Thoreau’s minimalist lifestyle. Last Thursday, I gorged a hearty Thanksgiving dinner until my stomach felt like a beach ball underneath my shirt. The next day, I frantically piled my shopping cart with the best Black Friday deals.

Everyone remained civil in the shops I visited. However, several videos have surfaced of people brawling with each other and breaking into stores on Black Friday. Even more remarkable is that 28% of gift shoppers are still in holiday shopping debt from last year.

The United States is the most overworked country in the developed world. After multiple 40-hour weeks, adults are understandably ecstatic to break out of the routine and splurge. However, the holidays are but a different manifestation of our tendency towards excess. After months of overwork, people gravitate towards a different extreme: personal pleasure, which translates into huge meals and excessive gift shopping.

Our inclination towards excess is not new. In Thoreau’s time, Americans embodied the mission of Manifest Destiny -- the idea that Americans had a duty to expand westward to spread the ideals of liberty and technological advancement. It became an obsession to do just that, as it was the first time their lives were truly in their hands.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of this history when I watched a video of two adults fighting on the floor in Walmart on Black Friday. I believe the compulsion to accumulate (nowadays objects instead of land) persists.

There are undeniable consequences to excessive shopping--it's sad how easily people exchange their civility for discounts. And of course, increased consumerism leads to more manufacturing, which requires more fossil fuel energy, which leads to climate change. 

One would think that we'd all be better off with a minimalist lifestyle, using resources to cultivate intellect instead of manufacturing. However, the quest for immediate gratification regularly fuels our myopic pursuit of excess.

It is a true dilemma, and I will not pretend to have the answer. Is the desire to accumulate more intrinsic to human nature, or is it a facet of the American identity? And when is more finally enough?

Shivani Tripathi

Posted on November 28, 2018 20:06

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Source: Bay News 9

It's round two for shoppers at the Tampa Premium Outlets. The stores opened Thanksgiving night and h

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