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3 Lessons Turkeys Can Teach Us About Life

With a Ph.D. in psychology and a passion for animals, FlourishAnyway knows animals can teach us more about living healthy, fulfilling lives.

He's Working It! Get This Guy a Presidential Pardon!

Although many people think of turkeys as stupid animals, this is untrue.  Their reputations have been unfairly earned because of an inherited neurological disorder, tetanic torticollar spasm.  It causes staring at the sky for up to a

Although many people think of turkeys as stupid animals, this is untrue. Their reputations have been unfairly earned because of an inherited neurological disorder, tetanic torticollar spasm. It causes staring at the sky for up to a

Word Association Game

Let's play a fun word association game, okay? When I say "TURKEY," you say the first thing that comes to mind.
Alright, are you ready? Here goes ... "TURKEY!"
And you said ...
STUFFING? How could you say that? Let's try again.
SANDWICH? Seriously, is that all you can offer? You have one more chance.
DELICIOUS? Okay, people, this is clearly not what I had in mind.

Let's move on. You have ruffled the feathers of my good-natured turkey friends.
They were generously prepared to share their life lessons with you, only to hear that you want to roast them up and serve them for dinner. Sheesh. Put those forks away and listen up!

He Ain't No Dumb Cluck

Pluck the four "fowl" habits of negative thinking from your life.  Tell the world who you are instead of the other way around.  "Wattle" you define yourself as?

Pluck the four "fowl" habits of negative thinking from your life. Tell the world who you are instead of the other way around. "Wattle" you define yourself as?

Lesson 1: Don't Let Others Define You

Many people think of turkeys as stupid birds who live a short and humble life. Then they end up on a Thanksgiving table, only to linger in a variety of leftovers.

But the truth is that these birds are not dim-witted. Turkeys have unfairly earned their reputations as the dum-dums of the bird world because they have inherited a neurological condition called tetanic torticollar spasms.

Brought about by loud sudden noises, these spasms prompt turkeys to stare skyward for up to a minute—even in the rain—before they resume their normal posture. And it is untrue that turkeys will look up in a rainstorm so long that they will drown.

What a misunderstanding! Don't let the negative thinking and hatin' attitudes of others color who you are.

Reader Poll

Life is a journey of your own making.  Show the world who you are and strut that stuff.  Go ahead, now. You know you can!

Life is a journey of your own making. Show the world who you are and strut that stuff. Go ahead, now. You know you can!

Tell the World Who You Are Instead of the Other Way Around

There's a lesson in this unfortunate turkey disparagement: You can't let others tell you who you are. Other people may misjudge you. They also have a variety of motives. You must instead define yourself.

Life is a journey of your own creation, and you must mold your own identity. You are not your flaws, your failures, disabilities, or the assumptions others have about you. You are not merely your demographics or personality characteristics. And how you earn your living is not who you are as an individual.

For guidance on self-identity, listen to your inner voice—your values, aspirations, your potential. Don't let others write your script for success. Tell the world who you are, instead of the other way around.

Banish negative thinking — both others' and your own!

Banish stinkin' thinkin'.  Life is just too short to waste time with it.

Banish stinkin' thinkin'. Life is just too short to waste time with it.

Banish the Habits of Negative Thinking

Negative thinkers are those who have made a habit of listening to naysayers and repeating pessimistic messages. They have internalized negative labels assigned to them. "No can do" messages have gobbled up their courage and self-identity.

After being defined by others for so long, negative thinkers need to do some mental house cleaning to rediscover themselves. It's worth the effort.

This turkey has given up negative thinking forever.  He lives in an animal sanctuary!

This turkey has given up negative thinking forever. He lives in an animal sanctuary!

In case you're gazing skyward at this point wondering if you engage in negative thinking, you can stop now because the turkeys are sharing their

Four "Fowl" Habits of Negative Thinkers

Negative thinkers tend to engage in several habits that bring them down and keep them there.1 Are you guilty? Do you know someone who is?

  • Negative Filtering involves focusing on the negative aspects of a situation. In reality, even the most unfortunate circumstance has something positive, inspirational, or even funny associated with it, if you look hard enough.
  • Personalizing - News flash: not everything is about you. If you tend to look at situations and construct rationales about why you're at fault, you risk bearing way more responsibility than you should. Others have a responsibility for their own actions and well-being, and you have a responsibility for yours. Don't you have enough going on without carrying the burden of other people's worries?
  • Catastrophizing - If you are a "sky is falling" type, you create unnecessary stress in yourself and those around you. Get a grip by imagining this: If and when the worst does happen—and on occasion, it might—you will still be okay. Build resilience into the stories you tell yourself by recalling times when you triumphed over negative circumstances. You're still here, right? Then, be proactive in logistically preparing for negative circumstances so that you can weather anything that comes your way. ("Expect the best, plan for the worst.")
  • Dichotomous Thinking - If you're someone who engages in all-or-nothing thinking (e.g., "that's pure genius" or "what an absolute disaster"), you risk depression. This style of rigid thinking is associated with perfectionistic tendencies. Strive to more realistically see shades of grey, rather than perceiving everything as black or white. The way you describe your world is a reflection of how you feel about yourself.

If you engage in these "fowl" habits, work hard to pluck them out of your life. Rather than letting the world define you, embrace the power of positive thought in building your identity.

"Wattle" you define yourself as?

Faces only a mother could love.  Turkeys are groundnesting birds and thus depend on their mothers until they can fly.  Mama hens issue orders to hide, scatter, or return, and the babies listen to her commands.  Their lives depend on it.

Faces only a mother could love. Turkeys are groundnesting birds and thus depend on their mothers until they can fly. Mama hens issue orders to hide, scatter, or return, and the babies listen to her commands. Their lives depend on it.

Lesson 2: Listen to Your Mother

We're so accustomed to seeing photos of turkeys packed wing-to-wing in factory farm warehouses that we may not realize they have close relationships with their mothers, if given the chance. Or that they even have mothers.

Wild turkeys brood their young, called "poults." They shelter them under their wings at night for warmth and during the day as necessary for comfort.

"Eggscellent" Communicators

As groundnesting birds, turkeys are devoted and attentive mothers. Young turkeys rely exclusively upon their mothers for about the first month until they learn to fly.2

Turkey hens and their poults have well developed communication which begins when the mother clucks to her young while it is still in its egg.3 When first hatched, the poult imprints on its mother (or the first moving thing that it sees). When separated from her, he or she cries out in distress.

If Mama Turkey senses danger, she issues a vocal command to her young to hide or scatter. Her offspring obey perfectly, staying hidden until she provides the "all clear" signal. What human children listen that well?

These boys are out looking for adventure.

These boys are out looking for adventure.

Wisdom of Elders

Mother knows best and father, too. That's because with age often comes wisdom. Take a clue from turkeys and listen better to the wise old birds. Distinct from IQ, wisdom is the accumulation of applied knowledge and life experience.

Wisdom is a positive predictor of life satisfaction and is independent of physical health, socioeconomic status, and the physical and social environment.4 According to wisdom researcher Robert Sternberg, Ph.D., wise people learn through life experience that the following five beliefs are errors in thinking.5 These Five Fallacies of Foolishness inhibit wise choices and actions (see table below). They separate the wise from the rest of the flock.

Listen to Those Who Have Hatched Before

So don't be a dumb cluck. Listen to those who have hatched before you, those wise old birds who have had their tail feathers ruffled and survived the scuffle. Listen to those who have brooded, feathered their nest with failure and success, and have lived to tell about it. With any luck, you'll become one of them.

What Separates the Wise from the Rest of the Flock: 5 Fallacies of Foolishness

FallacyMeaning

Unrealistic Optimism

Believing that your thoughts, ideas, and actions can produce only positive results.

Egocentrism

Believing that your priorities and opinions should come first in decision making, no matter the consequence.

Omniscience

Believing that you know more than others around you and therefore do not need to heed anyone's advice.

Omipotence

Believing that your intelligence and education somehow make you all-powerful.

Invulnerability

Believing that you can do whatever you want without the possibility of failure or repercussions.

Don't worry, baby, we got this! Let's strut our stuff! Wooo-hooooo!

Don't worry, baby, we got this! Let's strut our stuff! Wooo-hooooo!

Lesson 3: Have the Confidence to Strut Your Stuff

Turkeys know the value of self-confidence. Strutting is the turkey's way of confidently showing off. The behavior has been observed in poults as young as a day old and sometimes even in hens (typically in response to aggression from others).

The turkey's strut is both a sexual display performed by male gobblers as well as a show of intimidation.6 While you don't need to bully anyone, there's value in proudly letting others know you've got it.

You Don't Look Your Best Without Makeup Either!

This old gal's got game!

This old gal's got game!

Believe In Yourself

Research supports the benefits of believing in yourself—both in specific, momentary circumstances, and more generally.

Here are some examples:

  • Self-confidence enhances performance in competitive sports, particularly for men and high-standards competition.7
  • Confidence in one's ability to quit smoking predicts actual success.8
  • Low self-esteem predicts depression and anxiety (not the other way around).9
  • In patients with chronic disease, self-esteem predicts perceptions of symptom severity and frequency, the degree of physical pain, psychological distress, and greater functional limitations.10
  • Self-esteem predicts job satisfaction, job success, and lower levels of uncivil and deviant work behavior.11 (Should companies be hiring, in part, for this?)

People who are higher in self-esteem are generally more direct in communication and more tolerant of criticism. They don't try too hard to satisfy others and take more risks that result in learning opportunities.

So go ahead and strut your self-confidence! Show the world you've got it going on! After all, if you don't believe in yourself, how can you expect others to?

He's a wise old bird.

He's a wise old bird.

Fake It Until You Make It

What if you're not quite there yet with your self-assurance? In that case, fake it until you make it. The old adage is true, according to psychological research. Act like you have the world by the gizzards.

Why? Overconfidence presents an image of competence, and other people are effectively persuaded by it. Call it the "Kim Kardashian effect." Self-promotion and belief in your own abilities can indeed make you more successful.13 In the workplace it also does not harm you from climbing the career ladder.

Just do the rest of us a favor and continue to work at backing up your strut with some substance.

Turkey Laugh Track: There's One In Every Crowd

Talking Turkey: Facts & Giblets

  • A group of turkeys is called a "rafter."
  • Wild turkeys can fly at speeds of up to 55 mph (88.5 kph). Domestic turkeys do not fly.
  • An adult turkey typically has 5,000-6,000 feathers on its body.
  • You can tell the sex of the turkey from its poop. Males poop J-shaped turds, and females poop in spirals or curly Qs.
  • Turkeys can run as much as 12 mph (19.3 kph).
  • Giblets are a culinary term for the heart, liver, gizzard, and neck.
  • Wild turkeys prefer to sleep perched in trees to protect themselves from coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and other predators.
  • Ben Franklin, famous for unsuccessfully advocating that the turkey be adopted as America's national symbol, dissed the eagle: "...he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly...like those among men who live by sharping and robbing...he is generally poor, and often very lousy."12

You're Destined for Greatness ... Not Dinner

Wouldn't you rather have ham instead?  Or a peanut butter sandwich?

Wouldn't you rather have ham instead? Or a peanut butter sandwich?

Summary in an Eggshell: Life Lessons from Turkeys

  • Don't let others define you. Pluck the four "fowl" habits of negative thinking out of your life and proclaim to the world who you are.
  • Listen to your mother and those who have hatched before you. Old birds apply their knowledge and life experience, and if you listen well one day you can, too. The 5 Fallacies of Foolishness separate the wise from the rest of the flock.
  • Strut! Behave like you've got the world by the gizzards, even if you have to fake it until to make it. Confidence promotes an image of competence and produces success. (Just keep working on your actual abilities, too, please.)

Whoa! So Much Consumption

On Thanksgiving, Americans eat an estimated 40-50 million pumpkin pies and 45 million turkeys.  The typical American consumes up to 5,000 calories on Thanksgiving Day.

On Thanksgiving, Americans eat an estimated 40-50 million pumpkin pies and 45 million turkeys. The typical American consumes up to 5,000 calories on Thanksgiving Day.

Notes

1Fishman, Joanna. "Positive Psychology: The Benefits of Living Positively | World of Psychology." Psych Central.com. Accessed November 22, 2013. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/03/11/positive-psychology-the-benefits-of-living-positively/.

2Davis, Karen. "A Mother Turkey and Her Young - “Their Kind and Careful Parent”." United Poultry Concerns. Last modified 2007. http://www.upc-online.org/winter07/mother.html.

3Vermont Fish & Wildlife. "Eastern Wild Turkey Fact Sheet." Last modified 2013. http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

4Ardelt, Monika. "Wisdom and Life Satisfaction In Old Age." Journal of Gerontology 52, no. 1 (1997): 15-27. Accessed November 21, 2013. http://web.clas.ufl.edu/users/ardelt/Wisdom_and_life_satisfaction_in_old_age.pdf.

5Jordan, Jennifer ., and Robert J. Sternberg. "Wisdom In Organizations: A Balance Theory Analysis." SAGE. Accessed November 22, 2013. http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/15385_Chapter_1.pdf.

6Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. "Wild Turkey Biology FAQs." Pennsylvania Game Commission. http://www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/WildlifeSpecies/Turkey/Pages/TurkeyBiologyFAQ.aspx.

7Woodman, Tim, and Lew Hardy. "The relative impact of cognitive anxiety and self-confidence upon sport performance: a meta-analysis." Journal of Sports Sciences 21, no. 6 (2003): 443-457. Accessed November 22, 2013. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0264041031000101809.

8Gwaltney, Chad J., Jane Metrik, Christopher W. Kahler, and Saul Shiffman. "Self-efficacy and smoking cessation: A meta-analysis." Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 23, no. 1 (2009): 56-66. Accessed November 21, 2013.

9My Mind Expert. "The Negative Effects Of Low Self-Esteem On Life." Last modified September 21, 2013. http://mymindexpert.com/self-esteem-self-confidence/the-negative-effects-of-low-self-esteem-on-life/.

10Juth, Vanessa, Joshua M. Smyth, and Alecia M. Santuzzi. "How Do You Feel? Self-esteem Predicts Affect, Stress, Social Interaction, and Symptom Severity during Daily Life in Patients with Chronic Illness." Journal of Health Psychology 13, no. 7 (2008): 884-894. Accessed November 21, 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996275/.

11Kuster, Farah, Ulrich Orth, and Laurenz L. Meier. "High Self-Esteem Prospectively Predicts Better Work Conditions and Outcomes." Social Psychological and Personality Science 4, no. 6 (2013): 668-675. Accessed November 22, 2013. http://uorth.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/kuster_et_al_2013_spps.pdf.

12Melina, Remy. "8 Terrific Turkey Facts." LiveScience.com. Last modified November 18, 2011. http://www.livescience.com/17057-turkey-facts-thanksgiving.html.

13Szalavitz, Maia. "How Overconfidence and Paranoia Become Self-Fulfilling Prophecies." TIME. Last modified August 22, 2012. http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/22/how-overconfidence-and-paranoia-become-self-fulfilling-prophecies/.

© 2013 FlourishAnyway

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