Riaz Meghji, the author of Every Conversation Counts, asserts that three conditions are present in the lives of the happiest people: they have something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.
In my personal experience, he’s right. These three conditions certainly made my French Thanksgiving a happy occasion.
I definitely had something to do—fixing a traditional American Thanksgiving meal.
The first task was to collect the ingredients. I prevailed upon my daughter-in-law to order a turkey from a butcher (they aren’t sold in supermarkets in France). I also persuaded my son to drive to the supermarket to gather the necessary ingredients for the other dishes (potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans, fruit salad, cranberries, and so on).
The next challenge was preparing the meal. Because of a broken bone in my foot, I was reduced to hobbling around in crutches or, even worse, sitting in a wheelchair—hard to cook that way!
My French family couldn’t help me because the parents were at work and the kids were in school.
The kitchen was another obstacle. I had to cook in my family’s kitchen without knowing where to find utensils and pans or even how the oven and appliances worked.
These problems were solved when my French tutor unexpectedly volunteered to be my sous-chef. On Thanksgiving Day, I sat in my wheelchair at the edge of the kitchen and gave instructions while she cooked the meal.
If minimal leftovers are any indication, our efforts were successful. The meal was remarkably authentic and included a caramelized pumpkin pie, a new recipe I was forced to try because canned pumpkin isn’t available in France. (Let me know if you want the recipe—it’s surprisingly easy!)
As for the second requirement for happiness—someone to love—I had several people to love. Two families, ranging in age from 6 to 80, sat together and shared what we were grateful for.
My calendar is already full of the third requirement for happiness: something to look forward to. My son’s 50th birthday is coming up—that definitely calls for a party. After that, I’ll move into my new home in mid-December.
Then, Christmas parties will be in full swing, culminating in a feast at the home of my extended French family. Another gathering will ring in the New Year.
In January, my 16-year-old grandson will turn 17. Then in February, his 13-year-old brother will turn 14. More dinners and more parties will mark these occasions. In the spring, friends from the U.S. will visit me.
I have much to look forward to.
Languishing is a popular new term that sociologist Corey Keyes uses to describe the widespread psychological impact of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Languishing isn’t a mental illness per se but rather a person’s experience of not being engaged in life. Burned out, unmotivated, numb, indifferent—these are some of the words people use to describe their current mental state.
When I moved to France as a widow and gave up most of what was familiar and comforting, I worried that I might languish. If this past Thanksgiving is any indication, however, I needn’t have worried. Indeed, I am flourishing.