What are you thankful for?

Thanksgiving should be an everyday event, not a rare occasion

Johnny Depp has earned $650 million over his lifetime. His films, including the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, “Platoon,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and “Alice in Wonderland,” have grossed more than $2 billion.

And he used this wealth to its fullest. Depp reportedly owned 14 homes, spent $30,000 per month on wine and owned a four-island chain in the Bahamas. Of course, if you have an island (to say nothing of four), you need a yacht. He spent $5 million on a memorial service for Hunter S. Thompson, at which he shot the writer’s ashes from a 153-foot cannon built specially for the occasion.

All this spending doesn’t seem to have made him happy. Depp has had multiple public legal and relationship issues and has struggled with addiction and alcoholism throughout his life. “Money doesn’t change anybody,” Depp said. “Money reveals them.”

No one reading this is earning as much as Johnny Depp, but are you generally happy or grateful for what you have?

Over the decades, Americans have enjoyed incredible wealth creation. Many people claim that this has largely benefited just the very rich, but that isn’t true. For the most part, Americans are earning more, spending more and getting better products and services. Consider these facts:

  • From 1984 to 2019, Americans consistently spent about one-third of their budgets on housing. But the size of the average home increased substantially: The median home built today is 2,500 square feet, compared to about 1,500 square feet in 1970. Americans today have 1,000 extra square foot per home for about the same level of spending on housing. (And this is despite having smaller families, on average, meaning there’s even more living space per person.)
  • The number of cars per household has increased by 60% since the 1980s. And cars are safer, more fuel efficient, and more reliable. A car that lasted more than 100,000 miles was something of a rarity in the not-too-distant past. But today, people routinely purchase used vehicles with that many miles, and they expect it to provide years of reliable transportation. We spend slightly less on transportation than we used to, despite these improvements.
  • Grocery costs have been on the decline for decades, taking up a smaller percentage of household spending. Americans used to spend nearly 18% of their budgets on food in 1984, but that fell to 13% in 2019. Fresh food is more widely available, as Americans are eating more eggs, vegetables and fruits compared to 1970. Americans are eating more chicken and reducing their beef consumption.

True, the United States is seeing its worst inflation in 40 years. Many costs are currently rising, squeezing household budgets.

Annual inflation is about 8%, with housing, food and vehicle costs all soaring. But this is not unprecedented. Some people will remember inflation (and gas lines) of the 1970s and early 1980s. It was consistently over 5% and spiked at 14%, driving interest rates on homes to 18.5%.

Mackinac Center President Joseph Lehman once told me: “I saw those rates and I just remember thinking to myself, ‘I will never be able to buy a home.’”

That was the mindset back then. Things changed, eventually. They always do.

These problems affect every country in the world, often more severely than they affect us.

The United States is one of the richest countries in the world, but Americans do not score the highest on various various rankings of happiness. Why not?

Some say that it is just the rich, the 1%, who are doing better. In that, they have a point. But what they miss is that most of us who read that statement are part of the 1%. According to economist Branko Milanovic of the World Bank, it takes an annual income of $34,000 to be in the top 1% worldwide. That means even the very poorest Americans are wealthier than most people around the world.

So it doesn’t seem to be that income or wealth automatically makes people happier. It certainly doesn’t make them more grateful.

Times are tough for many people, including many of you readers, and it doesn’t improve your situation to hear that others are just as bad or worse off.

But it might help to remember that even Johnny Depp’s millions don’t automatically make for a happy life. The spirit of Thanksgiving is to acknowledge what we have and, regardless of how much or how little it is, find ways to be grateful for it.

As H.U. Westermayer noted, “The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.”

Thanksgiving isn’t just a day. It should be a lifestyle.

Jarrett Skorup is senior director of marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Email him at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.