Thanksgiving Message from Toys R Us: Skip the Thanks-giving

Pink Plastic toysIn the past few weeks, America’s biggest purveyor of pink plastic has unveiled their plan for the 2013 holiday season. In the process they probably revealed more than they intended to. What Toys R Us exposed was a cynical willingness to feed the worst in kids and parents if it feeds their corporate bottom line.

The opening move was a Thanksgiving message to American families:  Skip the thanks-giving and go straight for the feeding frenzy. At the beginning of November, Toys R Us announced that they would be open Thanksgiving Day. A full 24 hours to savor bounty and express gratefulness in the presence of family and friends??  What a wasted opportunity!  Why start the bargains the day after Thanksgiving when you can start them the day of?

The second move was that they hit the airwaves with a TV ad aimed at contrasting the dull boredom of nature’s gifts with the wonder and joy of Disney princess dolls and Transformers. In the ad, listless kids on a science fieldtrip, one where they will be visiting a local forest, are told instead that they get a shopping spree at Toys R Us. The bus full of children erupts!  As Stephen Colbert put it, “This commercial shows kids the ‘great outdoors’ is nothing compared to the majesty of a strip mall. And they still get some nature because, remember, that confetti used to be a tree!”

The Toys R Us two-part act, by design, has the effect of reverse alchemy—of turning gratitude and wonder into greed. I feel full, I feel loved, I feel blessed, I feel content and What a cool world we live in get transformed into I want, I want, I want.  Must have bargains. Must have toys.

What’s particularly painful about this transformation is that psychologically it also turns wealth into poverty. Beyond the basics of food, clothing, shelter and health, our sense of well-being is relative.  We compare what we have now to what we had in the past, what our ancestors had and what our neighbors have. Together, these give us a sense of what we could or should have. The primary goal of advertising is to change that—to make us think that we could and should have more.

Psychologically, advertising works by impoverishing us, by creating want in every sense of the word.  Want means desire as in I want you. But it also means lack, as in the old proverb, For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.  It also means destitution, as in Nobody should go wanting. The feeling of wanting is a feeling that we are incomplete, inadequate, and unfulfilled.  Madison Avenue exist to amplify those feelings; and the Toys R Us ad department exist to amplify them in children and parents.

Thanks-giving, meaning consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude, does the opposite., a website that I helped to found years ago, showcases attitudes and actions that are valued across the world’s great wisdom traditions, both religious and secular. To echo the Wisdom Commons, “Gratitude is a mindful acknowledgment of all that we have been given. When we focus on the abundance in our lives, we discover a greater capacity for generosity, cheerfulness, and contentment.”

Some of life’s best gifts are hand-me-downs, and the Wisdom Commons holds pages of handed down insights about gratitude. They come from individuals and sacred texts, saints and atheists, all of whom bear witness to the transforming power of giving thanks. None of them, I might add, express gratitude for the transforming power of pink plastic.

Scattered among the nuggets of received wisdom are words for parents who want to help their children feel rich and blessed regardless of their bank account. To my mind, messages like these are antidotes to the sense of insufficiency that Toys R Us seeks to infuse into our homes and families. These messages are simple reminders of things we already know:

Each of us, even in hard times, has something to be grateful for.

Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time I am being carried on great winds across the sky. —Chippewa Traditional

So much has been given to me; I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied. —Helen Keller

We can say no to purveyors of want. Our kids will be happier in the long run if we help them acquire more wonder and gratitude whether they have many toys or few.

The day I acquired the habit of consciously pronouncing the words “thank you”, I felt I had gained possession of a magic wand capable of transforming everything. —Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov.

Fulfilled life is possible in spite of unfulfilled wishes. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. —Thornton Wilder

There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy. —Ralph Blum

The best things in life don’t come from retail stores.

As i walked down the avenue, the late afternoon sun was turning the lovely and dying sycamore leaves into fragments of brilliant stained glass, and i said to myself, “This alone is worth the price of admission to our broken and glorious world. —Linda Larsson

When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be — I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. —Wendell Berry

The generosity and renewal at the ancient heart of the holiday season have little to do with shopping.

Thanksgiving comes to us out of the prehistoric dimness, universal to all ages and all faiths. At whatever straws we must grasp, there is always a time for gratitude and new beginnings. —J. Robert Moskin

I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter….I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. —Roger Ebert

As we struggle, for ourselves and our children, to resist the contagious frenzy of Black Friday, the hypnotic idea that we can buy happiness on the cheap, it helps to remember what is at stake—and that the gifts that really matter don’t come in boxes.


Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of  Subscribe to her articles at

Thanksgiving Confessions of an Ornery Atheist
Character Corner Parenting Tips at Wisdom Commons

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
This entry was posted in Musings & Rants: Life, Parenting, Relationships and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Thanksgiving Message from Toys R Us: Skip the Thanks-giving

  1. elaine phelps says:

    Thank you – Elaine


  2. “—and that the gifts that really matter don’t come in boxes.”

    So true. Valerie, I’m grateful for all you do to help make this world a better place. Thank you!

    Happy Thanksgiving,


  3. Ibrahim Sumrain says:

    A common sense message that is courageously put in the face of the mighty and greedy. Little people, one at a time, will make the difference and teach kids the good values. Thank you for this


  4. mriana says:

    I must be a throw back to the old days, when almost everything, if not everything was closed for Thanksgiving and Xmas, except maybe gas stations and even those weren’t always open. I see holidays as a time to be with family and not shopping, wasting money, as one supports the new Capitalistic government that opposes democracy. I can wait until Saturday to go to the store and often do. I don’t remember ever shopping on Black Friday. I for one, refuse to support Capitalism by shopping on the holidays. It’s a little difficult to cultivate an attitude of gratitude when Capitalistic Wasichu ( ), such as Walmart, Kmart, and Toys R Us, take over democracy and enslave most of the citizens in the U.S. to work or be without a job to pay for your home. I bet you the Waltons are feasting, while their employees are slaving away, separated from their families, and getting little in return, except, according to my second ex-husband who works at Walmart, discount on clothing. Slaves received slightly more than that. I have had so many Walmart workers thank me for vowing not to shop for the next two days and because I don’t feed into greed as much, I can easily wait to do my shopping. Even when my sons were little, I didn’t feed into such greed as we see today and I only hope some of it wore off on them. I think some of it has, in a way, for my older son is Buddhist and tries hard to rid his life of material things he doesn’t need. I also rarely sat and watch advertisements on TV too, when I had a TV. I would use that time to go to the bathroom, get a drink, pop popcorn, or alike and even told my sons, they could wait for an advertisement to go do what needed to be done, instead of yanking them away from their show. I really don’t understand this need to shop or force people to work on a day that should be devoted to family.

    Sorry, that’s my rant for this holiday season- people needing to be with family, instead of supporting Corporate greed.


  5. Perry Bulwer says:

    The modern advertising and public relations industries are the most powerful propaganda machines in history.


  6. Allan Avery says:

    Valerie, All Good!! I weep for our “formerly-Humanity’s-Best-Chance” american civilization, descending farther and farther backward into the the almighty power of big money. And ALSO, notwithstanding the globalisation of information, that we charge ahead fragmenting our individual attention. Away from deep and serious global thinking, to entertainment in small groups and “communities” of the like-minded. And same in the mass media that we’ve been counting upon for merging us peacefully, in our expanding diversity. Eg. the recent “12 Nations of the US,” anyone? So, can I also be “Happy” at the same time? I know I can be continuously, consciously aware and grateful. For the unfolding, amazing, wonderous, and real “Nature World” everywhere around me. And for the equally amazing human love, help, support I been gifted of thought my life. And the LUCK of it all. So is that happy? I think, for me, it’s more grateful for my life to date, but with a nagging sence that I can do more to “contribute.” So not “content.” Because I believe our shared human goal must be preventing our self destruction (Ecosphere, WMD, Arrogance and genocide), while we try to organize a peacefull, equitable, inter-connected whole world. Unfathomable. But there must be something new I could think of. Oh, did I promise “short?” :-)
    suggest, or try.


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