On a usual Thanksgiving, we plan what to buy, we cook lots of food, we eat a lot, drink some and see friends and are merry. But most importantly, it is a time to reflect on the past year or years and take stock of what makes our busy life worth living and cherishing. Finding out what to be grateful for this year might seem a task more daunting than usual. We are in the midst of a raging pandemic. All signs are pointing to it not abating but, rather, intensifying.
Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks: to the family, to friends, co-workers, strangers, Mother Nature, our food, our pets and other animals, the Creator, and the forces of life. This year, embracing the feeling of gratefulness might be a real lifesaver for so many.
We are all tired of the lockdowns, exhausted from zoom meetings and classes and unpredictable work schedules. We are sad because we can’t see some extended family or friends because of the risks involved. Some of us might have lost someone to Covid, others are paralyzed by fear that they might lose someone or get the illness themselves. Still others are dealing with horrendous economic losses following layoffs and closures of so many businesses and workplaces. So, how to be thankful?
What to be grateful for this particular year?
I’ve been writing a gratitude journal on and off and I find it a tremendously powerful tool to reconnect with my feelings and to reflect on all the big and little things that make my life special. Especially for a cancer survivor, there is so much to be thankful for.
Everyone’s experience with an illness or a dramatic life event is different for sure. But we all share the initial shock, sometimes even a denial of what’s happening. After many stages and emotions that come with an illness or loss, there comes a time when one needs to take stock and reflect on all that one has. This is, in fact, needed for survival. It is crucial to one’s sanity and the ability to move forward.
Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.Robert Brault
I believe strongly that we are currently living a societal trauma due to the fear and uncertainty that comes with Covid-19. Tremendous losses of life and health, of jobs and financial security, of connection to others, and the dwindling sense of belonging to a community. All of this takes a huge toll.
Gratitude can help
We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.Cynthia Ozick
Did you know that gratitude is proven to be medically helpful to people in distress? In studies of gratitude writing, scientists discovered that gratitude can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns. In fact, it seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief.
Compared with the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain
Interestingly, the mental health benefits of practicing gratitude are not entirely dependent on actually communicating that gratitude to another person. No matter, whether we share our thankfulness with others or not, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.
Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.Giving thanks can make you happier
What to be grateful for right now
Here are some things I’m thankful for at this particular moment:
- My wonderful family and how we stick together through thick and thin.
- My husband who is always with me through good days and bad ones, and whose love is has been fueling my recovery and healing. His touch is electric, the spark in his eye when he looks at me is the same as twenty years ago. Love of my life forever and ever.
- My children and the joy and sometimes worry they provide. I love looking at them, be around them, hear them talk, squabble, be stubborn, and assert their way. They are mine and I’m proud of them and grateful for this gift of mothering them now and for as long as I can.
- My parents, who love me unconditionally and through whom I first learned to love and accept myself the way I am, healthy or sick, complete or scarred, happy or miserable.
- My work, the place that gives me structure, asks of me to be my best, provides me with the best possible healthcare and a decent salary.
- My students who energize me every day even if I’m tired after a sleepless night – even on Zoom!
- My co-workers who are genuinely caring and loving people and who I can rely on for help and advice when needed.
- My friend, who makes me a better person by her shining example. She is the most giving and loving person outside my immediate family that I’ve ever met.
- The beauty of nature, the changing colors of trees, the California sky at sunset, the fresh grass after the rain, and for the bluest blue of the vast ocean that welcomes me every day as I go to work.
- The sun on my face when I’m in my hammock on weekend mornings. The warmth of the rays and how they seem to bring the healing energetic power straight into my body’s cells.
- The abundance of food that surrounds me in my kitchen garden and that I can get at farmers markets, and my ability to turn this food into healthy meals that fuel and sustain my family.
- My spinning instructors who let me forget the ills of the world and for letting me feel super strong, and motivating me to do my best.
- The relaxing bath and the aroma of lavender after a long day at work.
- My strength. Only now am I able to realize how frail and sick my body was a few years back. And on the emotional side, I can now look back on the past few years and see how far I’ve come.
- The time that I get to spend with my family. Five years ago I thought I got a death sentence but I’m here and every day is magical.
Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.Buddha
Don’t wait till Thanksgiving to ask what to be grateful for
Being thankful for what we have in life should not be reserved only for the fourth Thursday in November. It makes sense to practice gratitude all year round. It is not difficult, but it takes practice. It is in a way similar to practicing meditation. At first, it seems weird, almost silly, to be listing or writing down what you’re grateful for. But with time, it becomes a habit, and what a great habit it is!
For my part, I am almost contented just now, and very thankful. Gratitude is a divine emotion: it fills the heart, but not to bursting; it warms it, but not to fever.Charlotte Brontë
How to start a regular gratitude practice
- start small: list three or four things each weekend for which you were grateful during the past week.
- after a few weeks, you might feel a need to write your gratitude list more often, maybe move to doing it every other day.
- at some point, you might start needing to invest in a gratitude journal and start writing daily.
- with time, you might want to list more than three or four things. Reflecting on the day, you’d be surprised how many things might have happened that are worthy of gratitude:
A bird song that woke you up.
The sunshine that warmed your face.
The cat that gave you a fuzzy feeling by curling up next to you.
A cup of tea that made your tummy warm.
A pair of soft socks on your aching feet.
A smile of your child’s face after you brushed her hair.
A happy grunt from your kid after you gave him a little back rub.
A laughter shared with your loved ones or friends.
A yummy meal that you or someone else prepared and shared with you.
Your partner touching your cheek with love in their eyes.
Your neighbor chatting with you over the driveway.
A helpful clerk in the grocery store.
A car that stopped to let you cross the road when you were in a hurry.
The teacher who took care of your kids for hours on a zoom or in the classroom.
The co-worker who took on the extra work so that you could leave one hour early to run some important errand.
The nurse who cared for someone you love.
The doctor who told you there is hope despite everything.
A phone-call from a friend asking how you’re doing.
The clothes on your back.
The house that gives you shelter from heat and cold.
The love that you get and the love that you give.