Ah, Thanksgiving. The word conjures up images of turkey dinner, pumpkin pie, and watching football with family and friends. It kicks off the holiday season and is the biggest shopping period of the year.
Children are taught that Thanksgiving came about when Pilgrims gave thanks to God for a bountiful harvest. It seems we vaguely mumble thanks for the food on our table, the roof over our head, and how lucky we are in spite of these hard economic times. After all, our lives are so much better than, say, those in Bangladesh.
But surely there is something more to celebrate, something more sacred about this holiday.
What should we really be celebrating on Thanksgiving?
Ayn Rand described Thanksgiving as "a typically American holiday" whose "essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers' holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production." She was right.
This country was mostly uninhabited and wild when our European forefathers began to develop the land and then build spectacular cities, shaping what has become the wealthiest nation in the world. It's in the American spirit to overcome challenges, create great achievements, and enjoy prosperity.
We recognize that individuals free to produce create enormous wealth. We uniquely dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. It's no accident that Americans have a holiday called Thanksgiving – a yearly tradition when we pause to appreciate the bountiful harvest we've reaped.
What is the contemporary version of this bountiful harvest? In spite of the current state of the economy, it's our affluence. It's the cars, houses, and vacations we enjoy. It's the medicines we rely on, the movies we watch, and the safe, clean streets we live on. It's the good life, for the long haul.
How do we get this bountiful harvest? Watch any hardworking American. We create it by working hard year after year, and by wanting excellence for ourselves and our loved ones. What we don't create ourselves, we use our best judgment to trade value for value with those who have the goods and services we need, such as our bankers, hairdressers, and doctors. We alone are responsible for our wealth. We are the producers and Thanksgiving is our holiday.
So, on Thanksgiving, we should thank ourselves and the other producers who make the good life possible. Why don't we?
From a young age, we are bombarded with messages designed to undermine our confident pursuit of values: "Be humble," "You can't know what's good for yourself," "It's better to give than to receive," and, above all, "Don't be selfish!" We are scolded not to take more than "our share" – whether it is of electricity, profits, or pie. We are taught that altruism – not mere benevolence or generosity, but selfless sacrifice for others – is the moral ideal. We are taught to sacrifice for strangers, who inexplicably have a claim to our hard-earned wealth. We are asked to bail out failing banks and uninsured patients. We are asked to serve rather than lead. We are taught to kneel rather than reach for the sky.
But morally, each one of us should reach for the sky. Electricity, profits, and pie can only be truly earned through individual production – giving each of us the right to savor their consumption. Every decision, from which career to pursue to whom to call a friend, should be guided by what will best advance an individual's rational goals, interests, and, ultimately, an individual's life. We should take pride in being rationally selfish.
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to appreciate and celebrate the fruits of our labor: our wealth, health, relationships, and property – all the values we most selfishly cherish. We should thank authors whose books made us rethink our lives, engineers who gave us the BlackBerry and iPhone, and financiers whose capital has helped build entire industries. We should thank ourselves and those individuals whose production makes our lives more comfortable and enjoyable – those who help us live the much-coveted American dream.
As you sit down to your sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner, think of all the talented individuals whose innovation and inventiveness made possible the products you are enjoying, even if the spread is a little smaller this year. As you celebrate with your chosen loved ones, thank yourself for everything you have done to make this moment possible. It's a time to selfishly and proudly say: "I earned this."