Holidays seem to produce by-the-books recitations of “giving thanks” as much as a sewer produces stink. “I’m so glad to have [things I am socially required to be glad for]” or some such phrase is heard before every turkey dinner from November to January.
One of the most interesting refrains is a recitation of thankfulness for wealth. America is an (ahem) affluent country to say the least, and so it seems to make sense that Americans are “grateful” for the tremendous bounty which modern global capitalism has bestowed upon them, and at least go through the motions of saying so. But the story of “wealth” is more complicated than just having a lot of stuff.
Wealth derives from an Old English term “wele,” meaning “well-being,” and is related to many other words invoking similar concepts. For example, “well,” “welfare” especially in the sense of “doing or faring well,” and “weal” in the sense of “what is best for someone/thing.” All this stretches back to an Indo-European root “wel-” meaning “to wish or will.”
These related terms are about a kind of wellness, as in doing the best, flourishing or being in the right way, and given the Indo-European origin, they all have a hidden notion of self-making within them as well. In other words, the common theme among words derived from this root is the idea of self-care of the soul (or if you don’t believe in the soul, substitute body, mind, self, unified agent or whatever else meets your standard).
Of course these kinds of meanings don’t seem to inherently have much to do with our understanding of wealth as having a whole lot of something, usually money. But given what money can bring — good food, big houses, cars, political office, etc. — perhaps the connection between flourishing and having tons of money isn’t too far of a leap. Having stuff is secure and comfortable and feels good.
Nevertheless, a concept of “wealth” that encompasses not only economic well-being, but the entirety of it in all facets of life is called for. Indeed, “wealthy” derives from “wealth” by way of a phonemic analogy with “healthy.” “Wealthy” means to be healthy in every way possible, socially, mentally, bodily, and nothing less.
It’s doubtful whether many of the thankful people getting ready to carve up a 30 pound turkey to celebrate their affluence with their weird in-laws and creepy uncles meet all the above criteria. But perhaps once everyone is drunk enough on turkey and not-turkey, they feel wealthy enough not to care that they really aren’t.