Give New Meaning to Thanksgiving

11/18/2015 04:05 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2016

On the face of it, the movie "The Intern" is a delightful exploration of what it's like to re-invent yourself after retirement. And it's opened up a conversation about how people who remain employed--or find gainful employment--after the standard retirement age, are happier and healthier.

Why would working do good things for your mind and body? Isn't the whole idea of retirement to finally get to chill? To do whatever you want? Rest and relax? Not working is something many of us dream of! Umpteen ads promise us the fulfillment of life after work, or at the very least, escapes from work: people relaxing on a sun-drenched beach, hiking a trail, blissed out on a cruise ship, or sitting poolside nursing a tropical drink.

But here's the thing: working says "You're useful. You have something to contribute." And much as the idea of doing nothing is appealing, the truth of our human nature is that whether you're 17 or 70, being useful and having something to contribute makes us feel good.

When you're in your 20's or 30's, often you feel useless because you don't yet have the the skills--or your talent is unrecognized. Mosey on to the 40's and 50's, and the feeling morphs into "too little too late:" the advancement that never happened, or you're stuck in a rut that's OK but not where you saw yourself at this point in your life. Useless. Or partially so. Not fulfilled, that's for sure. By the time you hit your 60's and beyond, society has a cruel way of slapping the big "U" on you: you're done and too bad if you still want in the game.

DeNiro's line in the movie is classic: "Where do I see myself in 10 years? I'll be 80!" as if that defined the end of all usefulness.

Rebel! Kick! Scream! I don't care if you're barely out of high school or in assisted-living, you have much to give to life, much to contribute. You are useful! And the only one holding you back, truth be told, is you.

We buy into other people's assessments of our abilities, skills and talents. We let society dictate what is useful, what has worth, and what doesn't. This is sheer lunacy! I can tell you, the greatest contribution I make isn't the books I write, the work I do as a psychologist or a trial consultant, the greatest contribution I make, and I can make until the end of my days, is when I smile at someone. When I say "thank you," when I appreciate or compliment someone. That is my usefulness.

What's yours? Your wisdom? Your sense of humor? Your appreciation of music? Of children's laughter? Your kindness to strangers? To a friend? This Thanksgiving season. Know what your usefulness is. Know what it is that you uniquely contribute to this world, to this life. Know it and be infinitely, uncompromisingly grateful for it.

Then start looking around you for how others contribute, how marvelously useful they are. We all are useful, in our varied, often funny, quirky, touching ways, regardless of age or status. Praise and appreciate them, even as you appreciate yourself.

You will give new meaning to Thanksgiving.