As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

The “Thankful” game

rockwell_thanksgivingWe celebrated a happy and delectable Thanksgiving yesterday in the same way we have for over twenty years; in the home of my college friends Kevin and Anne Fahey. But I woke up feeling blue, because Kevin is not here. He was tragically killed in a cab coming home from a business trip, in 2006. It’s a loss I still actively experience every day.

Yet, I thought about how we managed to be warm and festive yesterday, despite the glaring, constant absence of Kevin. I talked to Anne about it and she notes that since Thanksgiving has always been busy and crowded, the actual day of the holiday weekend is not the hardest one to get through. The days before and after are more poignant. But there are other reasons yesterday was happy. One is that we have maintained a tradition Kevin really loved. It’s called “The Thankful Game.” Since it gave Kev so much pleasure, and helps us all to this day, I thought I would share it. It’s really simple. And it provides a wonderful way for a group of all ages and relatively varied relationships (ranging from very close family to “just met today”) to share some laughs and learn a thing or two about each other.

You can play it at any gathering, but Thanksgiving seems to remove the possible self-consciousness.

First, you give two pieces of paper to each person. On one, they write the end of this sentence, “I am thankful for…” The answer can be comic, sincere, or anything in between.

Then the pieces of paper are folded and put in a bowl. The bowl is passed and each person around the table takes a piece of paper. You go around the table and each person reads what they have in front of them. Our answers yesterday ranged from

  • “pizza” –a surprising answer from the gourmet at the table
  • “me”–from a very confident eight-year-old–and the same answer she gave last year
  • “having a job”–from a woman whose husband is out of work
  • “life, a good book, and good food” –from a very mature 13-year-old
  • “for 52% of the US population”–from an Obama supporter

The game can then just become a simple guessing game, and a fun conversation. But we take it to competitive levels, because that’s what Kev liked to do. We actually write the name of each person around the table on the second piece of paper, and then write whatever answer we believe they said. And then we go around the table again making predictions for each answer, until the real writer of each answer confesses.

We had eighteen people yesterday and one of the newcomers scored a surprising six out of eighteen correctly. The winner had eight.

I was the Obama person yesterday (our table had a solid representation of the other 48% and I still am thankful for them). But I am also grateful that I lived in Dublin where I really started to deeply appreciate Thanksgiving. It’s a mysterious holiday to Irish people. It has the mystique of being totally non-commercial (such an exception to the general US perceptions) and very simple. It is also confusing because it looks so much like Christmas to an outsider. The part I also like is that it is non-religious and wide open for any American…so a Hindu person who moves to the US two days before Thanksgiving is just as welcomed and entitled to celebrate Thanksgiving as a Mayflower descendent.

We are certainly not the only group that plays this Thankful game. But if it’s a new idea for you, please steal it. You’d be honoring our good friend Kevin Fahey. And feel free to post a comment here about what you are thankful for this year.

9 Responses to “The “Thankful” game”

  1. Dan Weinreb

    Another thing that’s good about Thanksgiving is that there aren’t any presents, which makes it so much less work to participate in!

    I’m thankful for having so many wonderful friends, and such a great Mom, Dad, and both brothers. I’m thankful that Obama won and the Democrats have a majority in Congress. And I’m thankful that there are so many cool free software toys to play with!

  2. Maureen

    This Thanksgiving I am very grateful that my daughter got a 4 day weekend. Usually she only gets a day or 2 and has to leave us sometimes on Thanksgiving to drive 2 hours back to where she works.

    Obama gives me so many reasons to be thankful. I want to dance and sing (which I do) that the USA will be okay, regaining its dignity and standing in the world. Now that is something to thank God for. Amen

  3. Barbara

    We played our own version of the “Thankful Game” on Thanksgiving! My favorite answer was from a very wise four-year old who is most thankful for “good yummy bread” and “good yummy stuff”. Attaboy! My dear husband joked that he was thankful for his Angelina Jolie pin-up calendar (and let me just say, if there really was such a thing, he would truly be thankful for that…there’s not, is there?!)

    I’m simply thankful that we live in a place where “good yummy stuff” is so abundant. Sad to see this wonderful weekend of family, food and fun wind down.

  4. julespieri

    Just back from a very long return drive and happy to read your “thankful” comments Dan, Maureen, and Barbara. They warmed my heart.

  5. Ann Lemon

    Hi Jules,
    I think I may have met you at Kevin’s memorial, or before. (I was Kevin’s art director at Y&R for years)
    I know this seems random, but I was trying to search for an email address for Anne because like you, sometimes the Kevin-sized hole in the world just looms out at me. and I wanted to share something with her. For one thing, I always remember on Thanksgiving that Kevin took his kids to the parade (and maybe yours too?) while Anne cooked. And for another, I just learned there is a name for something Kevin was always trying to describe – the particular vivid impression he had of the way Time is shaped (like a long winding spiral staircase that folds back on itself in days, weeks, and years.) Who knew! It’s called “spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia” and Wikipedia says “numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map (clockwise or counterclockwise).”
    So, if you see Anne, tell her I said hi and that Kevin wasn’t THAT weird after all.
    Love to all!

  6. Paddy Hayes

    We had our office Christmas party last night (we don’t ‘do’ Thanksgiving over here in Ireland, other than ex pats obviously).

    I decided on the spur of the moment to play your Thanks game. It was a real wow and closed the night beautifully for the 10 of us. Well it closed the night for us oldies the youngies went off and partied till three in McSorleys (Ranelagh, do you know it?).

    New Years Eve is our big home ‘do’, Helen and I have hosted a do for our bestest friends each New Years Eve since 1979. That was the year Rachel our firstborn arrived on the scene. We couldn’t get a babysitter so asked a few friends who were at a loose end to drop over.

    We experimented with various formats ove rthe years and the numbers too went up and down. It has settled down now to a dinner party for 14, H & I just love people being seated round the one table, it makes for such great fun as the coversation swings and switches from one big group to three or fours little ones then eddies back again.

    This year the GAME shall have pride of place.

    Thank you for telling us Jules.

    Ps Chagrin! me what introduced the game scored Zero in it last night, my youngest Aoife got 5, would you believe.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: