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A Simple Thanksgiving

Most of us Americans have a first-world problem – overabundance. Having too many choices can make us miserable.

It reminds me of a Thanksgiving a few years ago when I could sense my wife was stressing out about something. This was out of character. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she was just feeling overwhelmed about Thanksgiving dinner.

We were hosting more people this year than we had in the past and she was worried about all the preparation that would have to go into it besides the turkey (my responsibility). She then rattled off everything that she had to have ready. For appetizers, there were the bacon-wrapped water chestnuts glazed with bbq sauce, the shrimp cocktail, sweet n’ sour meatballs, tortilla chips and chili dip, handmade guacamole and I’m sure that I am missing another three items.

For the main course, there were the candied yams, the homemade mashed potatoes, and gravy, the green bean casserole, the candied yams, the cranberry sauce, the orange-cranberry salsa, creamed corn casserole, homemade rolls. For dessert, she planned on making pumpkin pie, apple pie, blueberry pie, pineapple upside-down cake, peach cobbler, and a fresh fruit chocolate fountain.

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” I said. “That list is freaking ME out!” I told her, “Babe, there’s no point in making all this stuff if all it’s going to do is make you miserable.

Let’s simplify the menu. Two appetizers, four main courses, and two pies. That’s it. Everyone is still going to be stuffed and if anybody complains that we were missing something they can stuff it! She agreed and we had a lovely Thanksgiving.”

Having too many choices can make us miserable. It’s a real condition. Researchers Sheena Iyengar and Barry Schwartz have pioneered this area of study, finding that being overwhelmed with options can create an adverse experience called “choice overload or “The Paradox of Choice.”

We want options, but when it comes to choosing from all these options, we become paralyzed.

I recently read a story about a North Korean refugee who had recently defected and was invited to a buffet by some newfound friends.

North Koreans are accustomed to food shortages in their home country. You wouldn’t know it by Kim Jung Un, the country’s dictator. Judging by his plump physique, he seems to be eating well – the rest of the country not so much.

Most North Koreans are used to eating one meal a day – usually consisting of just a porridge of rice or potatoes – depending on the region. When North Koreans successfully defect to a developed country like South Korea or the U.S., they are sometimes overwhelmed by the abundance they encounter.

Hannah Song, who runs an NGO (non-government organization) called “Liberty in North Korea” from an office in Long Beach, California, recently related a story of a recent North Korean defector. Song said one defector she met recently froze when he encountered a buffet – “not only overwhelmed just by the abundance of food but by the abundance of choice. He ended up simply eating rice and leaving,” she said.

The Internet has given us an infinite amount of choices – to the point that many of us suffer from analysis paralysis. Log onto Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime and you’ll have more than 10,000 movies and TV shows at your disposal. Search for an item on Amazon, and you’ll be bombarded with thousands of options.

There can be such a thing as too much. An overabundance can be overwhelming. With touchscreens constantly within reach, we are constantly bombarded with choice upon choice upon choice – from what to watch to who to date to where to go for dinner. It can be maddening.

This Thanksgiving, try simplifying. Put those iPads, smartphones, smartwatches, and other connected devices out of reach.

Forget your circle of friends and so-called family on social media. Concentrate on the ones in front of you.

For just one day, enjoy the freedom of simplifying. And if you’re suffering from overabundance, think about shedding some of that overabundance by donating to those who may be in greater need this holiday season.

Thank you for your time and I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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